The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) former health minister has been taken into custody over alleged mismanagement of funds for the country’s response to an ongoing Ebola epidemic, police said.
In a statement on Saturday, the national police said Oly Ilunga Kalenga was detained because they believed he planned to evade legal proceedings by leaving the country.
“Unfortunately, police received information about his disappearance with a view to reaching Congo-Brazzaville,” the police’s press service said, referring to the neighbouring Congo Republic.
It said Ilunga was in police custody and is likely to face a prosecutor on Monday. His lawyers declined immediate comment, the Reuters news agency reported.
Earlier this month, his lawyers said he had been questioned by police about his role in managing the Ebola response. They denied any wrongdoing by Ilunga.
Thousands of cases
Ilunga oversaw DRC’s handling of the Ebola outbreak – the second deadliest in history which has claimed thousands of lives – for nearly a year. He was stripped by the presidency of that responsibility in July and resigned from the government days later, citing “interference in the management of the response” to the epidemic.
Since his departure, the viral disease has continued to spread in the DRC’s eastern North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where it erupted in August 2018.
Figures released by the DRC’s health ministry this week showed that Ebola deaths in the sprawling North African country’s eastern regions had topped 2,000, while confirmed cases of the virus had exceeded 3,000.
A few cases have been confirmed in Uganda after infected patients crossed the border, but all of those individuals either died or were sent back to the DRC for specialised treatment.
A mistrust of health workers and widespread security issues have threatened the fight against the outbreak in a region where armed groups have fought for decades.
Amid the unrest, health workers have inoculated more than 200,000 people to date with a vaccine produced by US pharmaceutical giant, Merck.
Health workers in Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi – all of which border the DRC – have also been given the vaccine, which is experimental but is estimated to be 97.5 percent effective. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it may protect a person for up to 12 months.
More than 89 million screenings within the DRC and at international borders have also been carried out in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading.
On Friday, the WHO said health workers recorded the lowest weekly incidence of Ebola since March 2019 with 40 new cases, but said it was unclear if this positive trend would continue.
In July, the UN’s health agency declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern and warned that “hundreds of millions” of dollars extra funding would be needed to stop the epidemic.
Foreign donors have provided more than $150m in aid to the Ebola response over the past year.