DRC ex-health minister questioned over use of Ebola funds

KINSHASA (AFP) – Oly Ilunga, who resigned as DR Congo health minister last month, was questioned on Tuesday as part of an enquiry into the use of public funds earmarked to tackle the Ebola epidemic, his lawyer said.

The former minister’s evidence was heard by the attorney general and “trusts in the justice system of his country,” lawyer Guy Kabeya told AFP.

A judicial source said Ilunga had left “freely”.

Three of the minister’s former co-workers, including a doctor, were held in custody the source added, confirming a report by the Top Congo radio station.

The hearings were part of a preliminary inquiry “into the management of substantial funds provided by the government for the battle against the Ebola virus”, which has claimed almost 2,000 lives, another source said.

Ilunga resigned last month, citing his removal as the head of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola response team and concerns over a proposed “experiment” with a new, unlicenced vaccine.

Nearly 170,000 people have been given an Ebola vaccine manufactured by German pharma giant Merck since the outbreak started in Democratic Republic of Congo a year ago.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been pushing for the introduction of a second vaccine produced by United States (US) company Johnson & Johnson, but the Health Ministry under Ilunga has resisted such a move, citing the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.

The Merck vaccine is tested but unlicenced, while the Johnson & Johnson drug is still in the trial stage.