Doctors Flee For Their Lives After New Ebola Clinic Attack

Assailants set fire to an Ebola treatment center run by Doctors Without Borders in Katwa, a rural suburb in Democratic Republic of the Congo, on February 25.
Screenshot: npr.org, Lauris Bonnaud/Reuters

“When I send my teams I need to be sure that they are going to come back alive.”

NPR – The aid group Doctors without Borders is suspending its work in the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The move comes after two separate attacks on its treatment centers there. The organization says, at best, it will be weeks before it returns.

“When I send my teams I need to be sure that they are going to come back alive,” says Emmanuelle Massart, the on-the-ground emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in the region. “The attacks were really, really violent.”

The first took place last Sunday night.

“It started around ten o’clock,” says Massart.

Somewhere between 20 to 100 men converged on the group’s treatment center in a rural suburb called Katwa.

“They started to throw stones. And then they started to put part of the center on fire – where we had all the logistical and water and sanitation equipment. And then … the triage center and the cars.”

After about 15 minutes the attackers scattered. But the center was already in ruins.

The next attack was on Wednesday night — at a treatment center seven miles away, in a city called Butembo. This time the assailants were even more brazen.

“They used a car to ram the gate,” says Massart. “There were men inside. They divide in different teams. They start to destroy things. They start shooting. So the police arrive and they start shooting at each other.”

The gun battle lasted about 30 minutes. One officer was killed.

At the time, there were several dozen patients at the center who were suspected or confirmed to have Ebola. Many of them just picked up and ran.

Massart arrived on the scene soon after and says everyone was traumatized … Read more. 

PRIOR COVERAGE … 

Africans Attack Ebola Workers; Bug Expected To Cross Borders

Arsonists attack Ebola clinics as climate of distrust grows

| The Guardian – A second clinic serving patients affected by the escalating Ebola outbreak in the Congo has been set alight.

Seven months since the start of the outbreak, which has claimed 548 lives, experts warned that the virus is still not under control and said suspicion of agencies is severely undermining Ebola services.

Médecins Sans Frontières [Doctors Without Borders], which runs treatment centers in Katwa and Butembo that were attacked, and is one of the agencies leading the wider Ebola response, said key partners needed to reconsider their approach.

“Within the response, and ourselves, MSF, we need to think what more we could have done, because right now it’s clear that we do not have enough trust within the community,” said Pierre Van Heddegem, project coordinator of the Ebola response in Katwa, adding that all agencies needed to engage in greater consultation with communities.

“In some neighborhoods, you have to go back to square one, sit down, listen to people and not impose our views of how it [the response] should be organized,” said Van Heddegem.

An Ebola treatment center in Butembo, North Kivu province, was torched on Wednesday, the second attack on a clinic in a week. MSF was earlier forced to close one of its treatment centers in Katwa, also in North Kivu province, after it was attacked on Sunday night. Medical wards and equipment were destroyed.

On Tuesday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director general, described the outbreak as unprecedented. “There has never been an Ebola outbreak in these conditions, with such a highly mobile population and with many gaps in the health system,” he said. Read more. 

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Ebola cases in Congo expected to double amid fears outbreak could cross borders

The Guardian – The number of Ebola cases recorded each day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is expected to more than double, with concern mounting that uncertainty over how the virus is being transmitted could result in it spreading to neighboring countries.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated its warning that there is a very high risk of the outbreak spreading not only across DRC but also to Uganda, Rwanda and even South Sudan.

The heightened danger of transmission is due to extensive travel between the affected areas.

Efforts to contain the DRC outbreak were hampered after violence related to December’s elections halted prevention work.

About 30 health facilities were targeted by protesters in Beni, while efforts to trace anyone who has had contact with the virus were partially suspended due to security concerns.

From October to December, six cases were recorded daily across all affected areas in the east, but numbers are increasing, said Jean-Philippe Marcoux, Mercy Corps’ country director for DRC.

“Now it’s doubling – it’s very possible that it can double again,” said Marcoux. “If we don’t significantly increase the resources, it will keep increasing. It will spread progressively to other health areas and it will be there for a long time.”

Two health centers supported by Mercy Corps are being rebuilt after they were burned to the ground by protesters over the Christmas period. Protesters were angry at a decision to postpone the presidential election in some areas of the country. Read more.

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