Response to Ebola in Congo hampered by violence, says group

Leslie Hanson
March 9, 2019

Recent attacks on two treatment centers operated by Doctors Without Borders led the group to close them, and brought a scorching and highly unusual self-assessment by Dr. Liu."They hear constant advice to wash their hands, but nothing about the lack of soap and water", Dr. Liu said.

"There is a lot of militarisation of the Ebola response", she said. "There is something that needs to be reframed", Liu said.

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

The statement comes after on 1 August the DRC Ministry of Health declared a new outbreak in North Kivu Province.

Amid the turmoil, health workers and emergency responders have struggled to win the cooperation of affected communities, many of which are deeply distrustful of the government and a rollout of medical strategies - supervised by security forces - which have clashed with local customs.

Medicines Sans Frontiers blamed deepening community district for the failure of medical workers to contain the outbreak of the deadly hemorrhagic disease that already killed 570 people these past seven months.

MSF recently suspended its operations in the epicentre of the outbreak - in Katwa and Butembo in North Kivu province - following violent attacks on Ebola treatment centres.

In the past month alone, she said, there had been more than 30 attacks and incidents involving elements of the Ebola response.

There were signs the outbreak - the second worst ever - was not being brought under control.

Doctors Without Borders president Joanne Liu said: 'The existing atmosphere can only be described as toxic.

According to the MSF, more than 40 percent of new cases since the beginning of the year are of people who died in the community, not in treatment centres.

"We have a striking contradiction", said Liu.

"While the causes of these acts are not all the same, it is clear that various political, social and economic grievances are increasingly crystallising around the response", MSF said in a press release today.

The epidemic is in a region of Congo that is prey to armed groups and violence where officials are prone to see threats through a security lens and to use force. Using coercion for activities such as safe burials, tracking of contacts and admission into treatment centres discourages people from coming forward and pushes them into hiding.

Liu criticised the militarisation of the situation, saying on Thursday that police and security forces are trying to force people to comply with health authorities.

A spokeswoman for Congo's Health Ministry said there appeared to be confusion about the security forces' role.

"The police and the army are not involved in Ebola response activities and their role has never been to enforce sanitary measures". Local officials, unlike global staffers, did not have the privilege of being evacuated for security reasons, she said.

World Health Organization officials, including Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, arrived in Kinshasa today, where Kalenga received them and thanked them for their field work, especially their role in rehabilitating ETCs in Katwa and Butembo that were damaged in violent attacks.

"It is a hard balance to strike", he added. The increase the risk of Infection for other people. "It is totally counterproductive", she said. "The Ebola response needs to become patient- and community-centered".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

Discuss This Article