‘Ebola spell’ teachers stoned

Reuters, Feb. 21, 2003

BRAZZAVILLE, Congo (Reuters) — Congolese villagers have stoned and beaten to death four teachers accused of casting an evil spell to cause an outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease that has killed nearly 70 people, a local official said Friday.

The outbreak of Ebola in the districts of Kelle and Mbomo near the central African country’s northern border with Gabon is thought by scientists to have been caused by the consumption of infected monkey meat.

But many locals believe occult forces are at work.

“In Kelle, people continue to believe that the Ebola disease is a spell that has been cast on them by witches, and four teachers accused of being the cause of the disease have been beaten and stoned to death,” said Dieudonne Hossie, a local official. He did not say when the teachers were killed.

“We call on the people of Kelle to be calm. It is the Ebola virus which is raging in the area. It is not an evil spell, it is a scientifically proven virus,” Hossie, who was speaking on the official Radio-Congo, said.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation confirmed the outbreak of haemorrhagic fever was Ebola, and put the death toll at 64. State radio put the death toll at 68 on Friday.

This is the second Ebola outbreak in little more than a year in Congo’s remote northwest. Kelle and Mbomo have been placed in quarantine, schools and churches have been closed and people are banned from entering or leaving the area.

Ebola, which is passed on by infected body fluids, kills 50 percent to 90 percent of its victims through massive internal bleeding, depending on the strain of the disease.

Hossie said those responsible for the deaths of the four teachers would be brought to trial. He also said that in the capital Brazzaville, 700 km (440 miles) from the affected area, people from Kelle had drawn up lists of suspected witches to be killed.

Ebola killed at least 73 people in Congo and Gabon in an outbreak from October 2001 to February 2002. That epidemic was also linked to the consumption of infected primates.

The disease takes its name from a river in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where Ebola was discovered in 1976. The worst outbreak was in that country in 1995 when more than 250 people died.

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