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WHO, UNICEF Evacuate Some Staff In Congolese City Of Beni


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, efforts to end an Ebola outbreak have been hampered. After a surge of violence, the World Health Organization pulled a third of their Ebola responders. NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: The WHO says this pullout comes just as they were making significant progress. While more than 3,300 people have been infected with Ebola in this outbreak, health workers have managed to reduce the rate of new infections to a trickle. Christian Linn Meyer is a spokesman for the WHO.

CHRISTIAN LINDMEIER: Last week, we, for example, had only seven new cases. This should illustrate how well this response was going.

AIZENMAN: But those cases are concentrated around the city of Beni, which has erupted in violent demonstrations over the last several days. People there are outraged that the government and a longstanding U.N. peacekeeping force there have failed to protect them from a series of recent massacres by a rebel group. Protesters have torched the mayor's office and stormed two U.N. offices. Now, earlier in the outbreak, Ebola workers have faced direct attacks. Lindmeier notes that right now...

LINDMEIER: On a good note, this violence is not against the Ebola response.

AIZENMAN: But, he says, it's seriously hampered the U.N. peacekeepers' ability to keep WHO workers safe, so the organization has transferred nearly a third of its 120 personnel in the area to a city more than 200 miles south. UNICEF has pulled all but 12 of their 39 workers. Lindmeier notes that the WHO still has 71 staffers on the ground.

LINDMEIER: So the doctors, the nurses, the vaccination teams, the burial teams.

AIZENMAN: But consider the teams who trace people who've been exposed to an infected person, check in with them daily to make sure they're not getting sick. Normally, says Lindmeier, the WHO teams can follow up with 95% of these cases.

LINDMEIER: Yesterday, it was only possible to follow up with 17% of cases.

AIZENMAN: So he says, you can see how easily it would be for Ebola to spiral up again.

Nurith Aizenman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.