Health workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are reportedly offering Ebola-related services, including Vaccinations, in exchange for sexual favors.
According to a recent NGO report presented at a national taskforce meeting in the DRC town of Beni, women - who are largely responsible for caring for the sick - have been blamed for failing to prevent the spread of the disease, reports The Guardian.
Exploited women have been offered healthcare jobs in exchange for doses of the "highly, highly efficacious" vaccine, according to the report.
"This region of DRC has a long history of sexual violence and exploitation of women and girls. Though shocking, this is an issue that could have been anticipated," saiod Trina Helderman, senior health and nutrition adviser. "Humanitarian actors should have been more prepared to put safety measures in place to prevent this from happening."
On Thursday, the health ministry urged people to report anyone offering services such as vaccinations or other treatment in exchange for money.
The ministry said it was aware of separate rumours, spread on social media, that women working on the Ebola response had been given jobs in exchange for sexual favours. In a statement, it said it took such claims seriously, and advised that women should only meet with recruiters wearing an official badge.
The warnings come as international health experts urged the WHO to consider issuing a global alert in relation to the outbreak. Writing in the Lancet, they said the response had been complicated by a “storm of detrimental factors”, including political instability, conflict and large numbers of people on the move. -The Guardian
The DRC outbreak is the second largest in history, surpassing 811 people with reported symptoms. Of those, 750 have tested positive for Ebola according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which warned that there is a high risk of the outbreak spreading to neighboring Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
There have been 510 deaths as a result of the virus so far.
In January, the number of new cases spiked from around 20 a week to over 40, according to Save the Children.
Despite the vaccine's effectiveness, the current outbreak has a fatality rate of nearly 63%.
Suspicion of authorities and health agencies has further hampered efforts to contain the response, said Eva Erlach, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The agency has analysed feedback from thousands of people living in Ebola-affected areas.
“Across all locations there are lots and lots of people who do not think that Ebola is real, that it is just a way for humanitarian organisations to make money, or that it was just used to postpone elections,” said Erlach. -The Guardian
"It is paramount to convince communities that Ebola is an urgent and real concern," said Save the Children's DRC country director Heather Kerr. "People have disrupted funerals because they didn't believe the deceased had succumbed to the virus. Aid workers were threatened because it was believed they spread Ebola. We have to scale up our efforts to reach out to the vocal youth and community leaders to build trust and to help us turn this tide. Treating the people who are sick is essential, but stopping Ebola from spreading further is just as important."
Also concerning to global health organizations is the unusually high number of children infected during the current outbreak.
Children, who are at greater risk than adults of dying from the virus, account for about 30 percent of all cases, including 116 who were younger than 5, according to a Feb. 7 report from the World Health Organization, the global health arm of the United Nations, which has deemed the risk of transmission "very high" at the national and regional levels, while the risk globally remains low. -ABC News