Congolese anti-Ebola fighter killed in home attack

Assailants stabbed Papy Mumbere Mahamba, 35, and wounded his wife before burning down their home in Lwemba town.

A view of an Ebola treatment center in Mangina, North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 01 September 2019
A view of an Ebola treatment centre in DRC's North Kivu province [File: Hugh Kinsella Cunningham/EPA]

A radio host who helped spread the word in the fight against Ebola was stabbed to death at his home in the northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo, the army said on Sunday.

The motive for the murder in the town of Lwemba in the troubled Ituri region was unknown, but it came as health authorities were set to introduce a new vaccine against the disease in unaffected areas.

The attackers killed 35-year-old Papy Mumbere Mahamba and wounded his wife before burning down their home late on Saturday, General Robert Yav, the commander of Congolese army forces in the Ituri town of Mambasa, told AFP news agency.

Professor Steve Ahuka, the national coordinator of the fight against Ebola, confirmed a local worker in Lwemba had been killed.

A journalist at Radio Lwemba, the local radio station where Mahamba worked, also confirmed the details.

“Our colleague Papy Mumbere Mahamba was killed at his home by unknown attackers” who stabbed him to death, Jacques Kamwina.

The Observatory for Press Freedom in Africa (OLPA), based in the DRC, called on the Ituri authorities to conduct a “serious investigation” into the killing.

DRC declared an Ebola epidemic in August 2018 in the conflict-wracked eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

The highly contagious haemorrhagic fever has so far killed 2,185 people, according to the latest official figures.

Efforts to roll back the epidemic have been hampered not only by fighting but also by resistance within communities to preventive measures, healthcare facilities and safe burials.

It is the DRC’s 10th Ebola epidemic and the second deadliest on record after an outbreak that struck West Africa during 2014-16, claiming more than 11,300 lives.

Health workers have repeatedly come under attack.

A Cameroonian doctor from the World Health Organization (WHO), Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, was shot dead in April in an attack on a hospital in North Kivu province.

A nurse and a police officer were killed in similar circumstances since the start of the epidemic.

In September, militiamen torched about 20 homes of health workers fighting Ebola in the area around Mambasa.

Dangerous burials

The WHO has warned violence undermines the fight against Ebola, notably impeding safe burials of the highly contagious bodies and the administering of vaccines.

People often refuse to forgo traditional burial rites involving kissing, washing and touching of the dead body.

Funerals can become “super-spreading events” with up to 70 people infected in a single ceremony, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

To prevent contagion, health workers and volunteers form safe burial teams but deep mistrust of outsiders often hinders access to bereaved families.

Many people see Ebola as a hoax invented by medical personnel in order to land well-paid jobs.

Source: AFP