Congo police detain former health minister in Ebola funds probe

Former Minister of Health Oly Ilunga has been taken into custody as part of an investigation into the use of Ebola funds, according to a statement by Congo police. There have been nearly 2,000 Ebola-related deaths in the country, and roughly $200 million in aid donated in the past year.

The investigation comes as Ebola-related deaths in the country have risen to nearly 2,000

Congolese health officials prepare to disinfect people and buildings at the general referral hospital in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of the Congo, as they fight the Ebola outbreak. Nearly 2,000 have died due to the virus, and now the country's former health minister is in custody in a probe on the use of Ebola funds. (John Bompengo/The Associated Press)

Police in Congo have detained Former Minister of Health Oly Ilunga amid an investigation into the use of Ebola funds from foreign donors, they stated Saturday. The arrest comes as confirmed Ebola deaths have risen to nearly 2,000, and confirmed cases of the virus have exceeded 3,000 in the sprawling African nation.

Ilunga resigned in July to protest President Félix Tshisekedi's decision to take over from him the management of the response to the world's second deadliest Ebola outbreak, which is ongoing now in eastern Congo. As he resigned, Ilunga deplored the lack of co-operation between him, the president and the prime minister in response to the deadly Ebola outbreak.

Police said Saturday that Ilunga had been arrested less than a month ago for misdemeanor offences involving the mishandling of funds, though he was later released. He has since made plans to travel to the neighbouring Republic of Congo, they said, adding that he was taken into custody to make sure he would not avoid legal proceedings.

They further stated Ilunga was in police custody, and would come before a prosecutor on Sept. 16.

Former Minister of Health Oly Ilunga speaks to a reporter in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dec. 20, 2018. According to police officials, Ilunga was taken into custody to prevent him fleeing the country. (Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro/The Associated Press)

Congo's National Ebola Response Committee released the latest Ebola numbers Friday after a discussion in Goma by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church about efforts to help stem the spread of Ebola in communities. A mistrust of health workers and widespread security issues still threaten the fight against the Ebola outbreak in a region where armed groups have fought for decades over the mineral-rich land.

Foreign donors have so far provided roughly $200 million in funding to the Ebola response over the past year, but the United Nations has said hundreds of millions of dollars more are needed.

The committee reported there were 3,002 confirmed Ebola cases with 1,974 confirmed deaths. 

The World Health Organization said Friday they recorded 40 new cases of Ebola — the lowest weekly incidence of Ebola since March 2019 — but said it was unclear if this positive trend would continue. 

With files from Reuters