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Former DRC health minister arrested for alleged misuse of $4.3m in Ebola funds

Police in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have arrested the former health minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, for allegedly mismanaging $4.3m in Ebola response money. Science Mag reports that the 14 September arrest came on the same day that an unprecedented high-level delegation of US government health officials met with the DRC’s president and other leaders in Kinshasa to discuss the 13-month-old Ebola outbreak, which is the second largest in history.

The report says there’s no obvious link between the two events, but worries have steadily increased over the past few weeks that shortfalls in funding could hamper the country’s efforts to end the outbreak, which has killed two-thirds of the 3,100 people who have developed the disease.

Ilunga resigned in July after DRC President Félix Tshisekedi shifted control of the response away from him. Ilunga was arrested in Kinshasa because he was planning to flee across the river to the Republic of Congo to avoid charges of mismanaging the funds, according to a police statement. Ilunga’s lawyers have strongly denied the allegations, which they called “scandalous” and “defamatory”. The country’s inspector general had overseen the Ebola funding, they noted, and stressed that $1.9m of the total came to the ministry after Ilunga resigned. “He firmly reaffirms his innocence in this affair and promises to defend himself with the utmost energy for his honour,” they wrote, stressing that the money under his watch had been used exclusively for the Ebola response.

The report says Tshisekedi met with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, who visited Kinshasa with a team including Robert Redfield, director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and Anthony Fauci, director and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The report says the US government is the biggest funder of the Ebola response, having provided $158m in aid and $238m in technical assistance. The delegation came to “assess the situation on the ground,” the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington DC, said.

[link url="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/09/congo-arrests-former-health-minister-alleged-misuse-ebola-funds"]Science Mag report[/link]

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