The non-governmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has suspended its activities against the Ebola epidemic in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after two attacks on two of its treatment centers in recent days. In both cases, unidentified armed persons forcibly entered the centers and set fire to vehicles and part of the installations. "It is a very painful decision, but we have no other option than to suspend our activities until further notice," said Hugues Roberts, MSF's Emergency Manager. The country suffers the most deadly outbreak that has affected it so far, and it is the second most serious in all history, after the one that affected West Africa between 2014 and 2016.
The first attack occurred last Sunday night. A group of armed men set fire to the Katwa treatment center and MSF was forced to evacuate 10 patients, four diagnosed as Ebola sufferers and another six suspected cases, who were transferred to other health facilities. A relative of one of the patients was found dead near the center, allegedly when he tried to flee. It was not the first time that the medical personnel suffered the hostility of the population. On February 19, a nurse was killed in Vuhovi, 15 kilometers from Katwa, by a group of people.
However, three days later it happened again. Again armed men launched an attack on another treatment center, in this case in the city of Butembo. Several of the tents and some vehicles were burned and although the flames could be controlled by the personnel, the medical teams were forced to immediately suspend the attention of the sick. One of the policemen who protected the facilities died during the attack, according to local press. At that time there were 57 patients inside the facilities, of which 15 were confirmed as affected by Ebola. About thirty suspected cases fled.
"We are very sad about these attacks on our medical facilities that not only endanger the lives of our teams but also the most vulnerable people, patients," Roberts said. MSF suspends its activities in Katwa and Butembo, but continues working in other locations in North Kivu, such as Kayna and Lubéru, and in Ituri province, where it has two treatment centers, those of Bwanasura and Bunia.
Although the identity of the attackers is still unknown, there is a great lack of understanding among the population regarding Ebola. This, in a context of great violence with the presence of numerous armed groups In the northeastern Congo, it has complicated patient care since the epidemic was declared on August 1. Rumors and false news like that the virus does not really exist and that in the treatment centers the patients are killed have spread among the communities, and the awareness and information efforts have not been enough.
The Ebola epidemic in northeastern DRC has already affected 879 people, of those who have died 553. The World Health Organization, which does not consider it a global health emergency but of a regional nature due to the risk of expansion to bordering countries, reiterated this week the urgent need to raise 130 million euros to face the advance of the disease . The Congolese Ministry of Health has firmly condemned the attacks on the treatment centers and the executive director of Unicef, Henrietta Fore, has declared herself "horrified" by these violent actions.