Congo's response to the Ebola virus threatened by conspiracy theories and rumors


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By Gabe Joselow and Linda Givetash

People who have contracted the Ebola virus decide to die at home rather than seek treatment. Conspiracy theories fuel distrust of the government and health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to workers and aid groups.

Nearly 20 new cases of fatal illness are identified every day in two provinces in the north-east of the country. Both areas are strongholds of opposition where political tensions are strong.

Many victims are found outside treatment centers after refusing to seek help, officials said. The epidemic killed more than 700 people and affected more than 1,000 people.

In addition to fighting a deadly virus, health workers must dispel rumors that the disease is being made and that the millions of dollars spent on the response are part of a money-making program called derisively "the Ebola business".

"We have lost the trust of the community," said NBC News, Goma's Tariq Riebl of the International Non-Profit Rescue Committee.

A study conducted in September, less than two months after the start of the epidemic, revealed that 25% of those surveyed in the affected areas did not think that the Ebola virus was real, while 36% thought that the Ebola virus was real. it was made to destabilize the region.

"Everything is a matter of money, we get bonuses for the cases we see, extending the answer helps businesses," said Riebl, citing some of the lies spread among local communities.

Health workers in the "red zone" of an Ebola treatment center in Butembo.John Wessels / AFP – Getty Images

Anifa Vahavi is a demographic researcher working in Butembo, one of the most affected areas.

She expressed skepticism about the existence and origins of Ebola, and asked why humanitarian workers took extra precautions when they treated her with regard to malaria or cholera.

Ebola treatment centers established by the central government in collaboration with international aid groups have been suspected. Designed to isolate and treat suspected Ebola cases and staffed with health workers dressed in large "space suits", the centers benefit from increased police and military presence.

Some people in Butembo even believe that "when you go, they inject you with the disease," according to Vahavi, 30, who collects data for a Congolese non-profit organization.

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