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Ebola corruption: DR Congo’s ex-health chief charged with embezzlement, under…

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Ebola corruption: DR Congo’s ex-health chief charged with embezzlement, under...

The 59-year-old former health chief has been charged with stealing $ 4.3 million (£ 3.4 million) in public funds made available to combat the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 2,000 people since August 2018. The virus is highly contagious and causes acute diarrhea, vomiting and hemorrhagic fever. It spreads through body fluids and kills more than half of its victims. “The magistrate said he was charged with embezzlement. As a former minister, he could not be arrested, ”said lawyer Guy Kabyea, adding that Ilunga was currently under house arrest.

He was taken for questioning on Saturday amid suspicions that he planned to flee the country through neighboring Republic of Congo in an attempt to evade legal proceedings. He was barred from leaving DR Congo a few days after his first interrogation in late August.

"Unfortunately, police have received information about his disappearance with the aim of reaching Congo-Brazzaville," said a spokesman for the national police.

Ilunga's lawyers rejected the misappropriation claim, saying the accounts prove that the money was used "exclusively" for the Ebola response.

Foreign donors donated more than $ 150 million to the Ebola Response Fund last year, although the United Nations says hundreds of millions more dollars are needed to end the disease.

Ilunga supervised the treatment of the outbreak for almost a year. He left office after being dismissed by the presidency of this responsibility in July, resigning the government days later.

He was dismissed after openly criticizing World Health Organization (WHO) plans to introduce a new Ebola vaccine, citing the risks of introducing unknown treatment in communities where Ebola worker distrust is already high.

More than 170,000 people have received a vaccine manufactured by German pharmaceutical giant Merck since the outbreak began.

But while Merck's vaccine is being tested but not licensed, the WHO-backed alternative – a Johnson & Johnson drug – is still in the experimental research phase.

The current outbreak is the second deadliest in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2013 and 2016.

In July, WHO declared the epidemic a "public health emergency of international interest" after it spread through the city of Goma, a transit hub of nearly 2 million people on the border with Rwanda and neighboring Uganda.

Despite access to effective vaccines and treatments, health workers have struggled to prevent the virus from becoming uncontrolled in remote and conflict-stricken parts of eastern Congo, where local communities are highly suspicious of the response effort.

Violent attacks on health centers and Ebola workers by armed rebels made the response even more difficult.

Hemorrhagic fever causes severe vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding. More than half of the cases are fatal, with patients usually dying of dehydration and organ failure.

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