May 24 (UPI) -- The United Nations said it has appointed an emergency Ebola response coordinator as part of increased efforts to combat an epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has killed more than 1,200 people in the last 10 months.
In a statement by the World Health Organization Thursday, the U.N. said it appointed Deputy U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General David Gressly to the new position to "oversee the coordination of international support for the Ebola response and work to ensure that an enabling environment -- particularly security and political -- is in place to allow the Ebola response to be even more effective."
Gressly will work with WHO, which leads all health operations and technical support activities in support of the Congo administration's response to the epidemic, the statement said.
Gressly said the Ebola response team is working in an "environment of unprecedented complexity" from a public health standpoint due to insecurity and political protests, which have caused disruptions to their effort to fight the disease.
"Therefore, an enhanced U.N.-wide response is required to overcome these operating constraints and this includes moving senior leadership and operational decision making to the epicenter of the epidemic in Butembo," he said. "We have no time to lose."
WHO said as of May 21, there have been 1,866 confirmed Ebola cases, of which 1,241 have died. A third of those who have fallen ill have been children, which is a higher proportion compared to previous outbreaks.
Transmission is high in seven hotspot areas including Beni, Butembo, Kalunguta, Katwa, Mabalako and Musienene, which account for 93 percent of all cases reported in the last 20 days.
The disease has been contained in parts of Ituir and North Kivu but the risk of transmission in eastern Congo and to neighboring countries remains "very high," WHO said.
WHO said it will be strengthening its political engagement and operation support in order to gain access to communities as "ongoing insecurity and community mistrust" has hampered progress.
"WHO is adapting public health strategies to identify and treat people as quickly as possible; expanding vaccination to reach and protect more people; and redoubling work to end transmission in health facilities," WHO said.