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WHO Goes on Defensive as It Fights Angola Outbreak

The agency limits operations after its workers come under attack, suspected of spreading a deadly virus they are trying to halt.

April 10, 2005|From Reuters

LUANDA, Angola — World Health Organization teams fighting an outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus in Angola were forced to suspend work after scared residents in one afflicted area stoned the workers' vehicles, officials said Saturday.

The United Nations agency halted operations in parts of the Uige province in northwestern Angola on Friday following the attack Thursday. The residents apparently feared that the medics could be spreading the infection, which has claimed at least 184 lives, some of them health workers.

WHO vehicles carrying 18 staff members were attacked and damaged, the agency said.

There is no known cure for Marburg, first contracted by researchers in the German town of the same name from African monkeys. Marburg's monkey-to-human transmission is similar to the Ebola virus. The previous worst-recorded Marburg outbreak was during a 1998-2000 epidemic in Congo, where 123 people died.

WHO said late Saturday that it had restarted the campaign in Uige, the outbreak's epicenter.

"In this kind of outbreak control, security is crucial. If we find those kind of problems in all parts of Uige, we will stop" our operations, said Fatoumata Diallo, the agency's country representative. "It was only in one part of Uige that we found this problem."

Diallo said WHO had been in touch with local officials and received additional support to help the agency continue its work.

Dick Thompson, WHO's spokesman on communicable diseases, said the agency was "very concerned because you can begin counting every day lost in terms of how many people die. It's important to get this job done. Every day it is delayed is a problem."

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