War within war: Ebola works hand in deadly hand with the Democratic Republic of Congo's violence

  • Video report by ITV News Africa Correspondent John Ray

In the fight against Ebola, there's no shortage of 21st century science and medical care.

It’s just that old superstitions, deep distrust, and an endless cycle of violence have the upper hand.

We see all this at the treatment centre in Beni, a town in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We wash our hands and shoes in disinfectant and have our temperature checked, before they let us in to bump elbows with our hosts, the French medical aid charity, ALIMA.

No one wants to risk spreading the deadly virus. Credit: ITV News

There have been no hand-shakes here since the outbreak began last year. No one wants to risk spreading the virus.

Inside, we’re shown an impressive row of a dozen or more clear plastic cubes. Each one is a kind of a bio-secure individual intensive care room.

The patient is protected from the world outside. Or rather, the world outside is protected form the contagion within.

On one bed; a young woman lies fighting for her life. We can hear her cry out in torment.

Ma-uwa is lying within the plastic thick sheets as she receives treatment for Ebola. Credit: ITV News

We’re told she, like so many others, might have waited too long before she sought treatment.

Back in February, heath wealth workers thought they were close to beating the disease.

But now it’s back in the surrounding countryside and we watch as five new suspected cases arrive. A man on a stretcher, a couple, and a brother and sister, both young children.

The girl tells us she has a fever and headache. It will be an agonising wait of 48 hours before she knows if that’s the harbinger of one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

"Here, we can treat people and help them survive," says Dr Matthieu Riccoud of ALIMA.

"But to beat Ebola we need to win out in the communities and villages, with information and education."

And that’s a fight for hearts and minds; to convince a hostile population that Ebola is not invention, that it’s not a plague visited on them by the government, or by foreigners.

Janine has lost ten family members to Ebola. Credit: ITV News

"When I fell sick, we knew nothing about Ebola," says Janine, who lost 10 members of her family to it.

"Even when people came to our house to tell us about it, we kicked them out."

Decontamination and vaccination teams often face open obstruction. It means they can’t properly trace the contacts of victims. The result is the epidemic continues to gather pace.

During our visit there's an attack close to Beni. A brutal militia some link to so-called Islamic State, killed a dozen or more villagers.

It provoked angry protests though the town. Much Ebola work out in the community was suspended.

A volatile security situation has hampered efforts to control the epidemic in eastern Congo. Credit: ITV News

Often health workers are specific targets, 85 have been killed or injured during the course of the outbreak.

In Butembo, another Ebola treatment centre has been attacked twice in recent months.

ITV News visited the centre in December last year - to see patients offered a chance for life.

It’s now working again, but the fear lingers and the consequences continue to reverberate.

An Ebola treatment centre that has been targeted and destroyed by rebel fighters. Credit: ITV News

The World Health Organization told ITV News the violence and security situation is holding back treatments.

A spokesperson said: "We’re having security incidents every week, some minor, some major.

"Every time there is a major incident, it sets back the response, anything from one to three weeks."

Ebola works hand in deadly hand with the violence that consumes this part of the country. Credit: ITV News

"All the patients, suspected and confirmed cases, ran away into the countryside,’’ says Dr Richard Kitenge, who runs the centre.

"All of them probably generated news cases in the community."

Stephanie Tam of Mercy Corps tells me: "The situation is deteriorating.

"The violence is mounting. The number of cases is mounting. The strategy is not working."

This little boy's mother died from Ebola. Credit: ITV News

In a compound protected by sandbags, Elias is bathed by his nurse.

He’s eight-months-old, and an Ebola survivor, but his mother died of the disease and now his carers at UNICEF are trying to trace his remaining family. There are hundreds of Ebola orphans like him.

The fight against this disease is a war within a war.

For now, Ebola is winning.