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Armed Assailants Attack Newly Reopened Ebola Treatment Center in Congo

The attack in Butembo came in the early-morning hours and left one police officer dead and several workers injured

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Health workers are seen through a bullet hole left in the window of an Ebola treatment center, which was attacked in early on March 9, 2019, in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Armed assailants on Saturday attacked an Ebola treatment center in the Democratic Republic of the Congo less than a week after it reopened following a previous attack. 

The attack in Butembo came in the early-morning hours and left one police officer dead and several workers injured. 

Butembo Mayor Sylvain Kanyamanda told reporters that security forces had defended the center and wounded one of the attackers. 

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited the center several hours later and encouraged health care workers to continue fighting the deadly Ebola virus. 

“It breaks my heart to think of the health workers injured and police officer who died in today’s attack, as we continue to mourn those who died in previous attacks while defending the right to health,” Ghebreyesus told reporters. “We have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world.” 

After the previous attack on the Butembo center, Doctors Without Borders suspended its operations in the city.

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A woman looks at burned equipement in an Ebola treatment center, which was attacked early on March 9, 2019, in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Precautions stir doubts

Anti-Ebola efforts already have faced adversity from residents suspicious of the extensive precautions taken by the health care workers to stop the spread of the highly contagious disease. Because Ebola virus can be transmitted through a victim’s bodily fluids even after death, even burial of the victims requires stringent safety protocols.

Thursday, Doctors Without Borders President Joanne Liu said the containment efforts used to control the latest outbreak of Ebola, which started in August last year, faced a “climate of deepening community mistrust” that was worsened by the use of security guards at treatment centers.

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Congo’s health ministry has warned the attacks in Butembo and on another treatment center in Katwa last month can lead to a “significant upsurge” in new Ebola cases.

More than 86 percent of the confirmed cases over the past three weeks came from Butembo and Katwa, according to the health ministry.

The current outbreak is considered the worst since the two-year outbreak in West Africa that started in 2014 and killed more than 11,000 people. (VOA)

Next Story

WHO Committee Warns About Ebola Outbreak in Congo

Ebola in Eastern DRC Remains Global Health Threat

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Medical workers lead a young girl with suspected Ebola into the unconfirmed Ebola patients ward run by The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA). VOA

A World Health Organization Emergency Committee warns the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo remains a global health threat despite significant progress in containing the spread of this deadly virus.   WHO reports a total of 3,431 cases of Ebola, including 2,253 deaths in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

The Emergency Committee declared the outbreak in DRC a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, or PHEIC, last July.  In reviewing the current situation, members of the Committee decided it was premature to declare the global threat over.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says he accepts the Committee’s advice.

“As long as there is a single case of Ebola in an area as insecure and unstable as eastern DRC, the potential remains for a much larger epidemic,” he said.

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Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland. VOA

WHO has revised its risk assessment from very high to high at national and regional levels, and low at the global level.  Last week, it reports only three new cases of the disease in North Kivu’s Beni Health Zone.  Tedros calls these signs extremely positive.

“But even as we near the end of this outbreak, we must act now to prevent the next one…Only half of health facilities have access to water.  Strengthening a health system may not be as sexy as responding to an outbreak, but it is equally important,” he said.

Tedros is traveling to DRC’s capital Kinshasa on Thursday.  The WHO chief says he will meet President Felix Tshisekedi and other senior ministers to explore ways to strengthen DRC’s health system.

Chair of the Emergency Committee, Robert Steffen explains why the group decided to maintain the PHEIC despite cautious optimism that the Ebola epidemic was winding down.

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“We do see a risk of some resurgence and also a risk of complacency if we would now suddenly abandon this PHEIC despite of the fact that we still occasionally still see new cases,” he said.

Another problem, Steffen says, is lack of money.  He says WHO needs $83 million to carry out its Ebola operation until June.  So far, less than half of the required amount has been received. (VOA)