Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo claim they are being asked for sexual favours in exchange for vaccination against the deadly Ebola virus that has killed over 500 people since it hit the country last August.
The claims, which were contained in a research conducted by several NGOs, were raised last Saturday at a national taskforce meeting in the city of Beni, reports The Guardian.
The research also mentioned that women applying for Ebola response jobs were also met with recruiters who asked for sexual favours in return for employment.
“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,” said Trina Helderman, a senior health and nutrition adviser at aid NGO Medair.
She added that the Ebola response should have established a higher standard of protection for women.
The research was conducted on the back of calls by international health experts urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to consider issuing a global alert in connection with the outbreak.
Since August, the Ebola virus has killed 510 people and infected 811. It is said to be the largest outbreak since the 2014-2015 epidemic, which killed over 11,000 people.
Though the WHO has described the experimental vaccine as “highly, highly efficacious”, it has warned that there is a very high risk of the outbreak spreading not only across DRC but to Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, and the source of transmission remains unclear.
Women are being blamed for failing to prevent the spread of the disease, according to research by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Other concerns raised at the taskforce meeting were the increase in stigma and violence facing women, The Guardian report noted.
“We will take the findings and work with partners to address concerns raised and ensure that women and girls are protected,” said the IRC.
Meanwhile, the health ministry in Congo has called on people to report anyone offering services or vaccination in exchange for money. It said that it had been alerted that some women working on the Ebola response had been given the jobs in exchange for sex. The ministry urged women to always meet with recruiters wearing an official badge.
Since the virus struck the Central African nation last August, 66,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered. The biggest challenges to control the virus over six months now include frequent rebel attacks and high mobility of the population.
Currently, suspicion of authorities and health agencies are also factors that are hindering efforts to contain the response, according to experts.
Why Ebola is dangerous
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. It is often transmitted from animals to people, and then from people to people by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated areas.
Formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, the disease is named after Ebola River in DRC. It was first discovered in 1976.
According to the WHO, the incubation period of the disease is between two and 21 days. Some of the first symptoms include fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. The other symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
The disease is difficult to diagnose and there are no vaccines to protect communities yet.
People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus and it may also persist in different fluids including amniotic and placenta fluids in pregnant women and breast milk in lactating women at the time of infection.