Friday May 24, 2019

MSF Warns Deepening Mistrust is Hampering Ebola Fight in Eastern Congo

In the last month alone, the agency says more than 30 attacks and security incidents have taken place in this volatile area.

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FILE - Healthcare workers carry the coffin of a baby believed to have died of Ebola, in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 15, 2018. VOA

The charity Doctors Without Borders warns a climate of deepening mistrust and suspicion in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is hampering efforts to bring an Ebola epidemic under control. The outbreak, which started, last year, has killed more than 500 people in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, has suspended its Ebola activities in Katwa and Butembo in North Kivu Province.

This follows attacks on two of its treatment centers last week. In the last month alone, the agency says more than 30 attacks and security incidents have taken place in this volatile area.

International MSF president Joanne Liu says the Ebola epidemic, the largest ever in DRC, is taking place amid growing political, social and economic grievances. She says many communities believe Ebola is being used as an excuse for political maneuvers.

Liu says the decision to exclude two areas — Beni and Butembo — from voting in the December presidential elections has only added to the suspicion that Ebola is being used as a political tool.

ebola fight, north kivu
FILE – Demonstrators barricade a road during protests over their exclusion from the presidential election in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 28, 2018. VOA

“The use of coercion adds fuel to this, using police to force people into complying with health measures is not only unethical, it is totally counterproductive,” she said. “The communities are not the enemy. Ebola is a common enemy.”

Latest reports from the World Health Organization put the number of Ebola cases in eastern Congo at 907, including 569 deaths.

Liu tells VOA the government is painting the Ebola epidemic as a security emergency. She says MSF worries about the disease being framed as an issue of public order.

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“We think as physicians that it is an epidemic, an infectious disease issue and that we need to treat patients and not as an enemy of the nation,” she said. “People need to feel that we are with them and we want the best for their care. And, that they want to be in our center because they believe that is going to be the best way to fight Ebola.”

Liu says coercion must not be used as a way to track and treat patients, to enforce safe burials or decontaminate homes. She says communities must be treated with respect and understanding. She says patients must be treated as such, and not as some kind of biothreat. (VOA)

 

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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)