DRC: Ebola treatment centre attacked again; one killed

Attack comes on same day as WHO chief is due to visit the centre, located at Butembo in North Kivu province.

    Efforts to contain the epidemic have been hampered by poor security in parts of eastern DRC [File: Al-hadji Kudra Maliro/AP Photo]
    Efforts to contain the epidemic have been hampered by poor security in parts of eastern DRC [File: Al-hadji Kudra Maliro/AP Photo]

    Armed men have once again attacked an Ebola treatment centre in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), killing a policeman and wounding a health worker, according to local authorities.

    The facility, located at Butembo in North Kivu province, only resumed operations last week after a previous assault by gunmen had forced its closure.

    Saturday's attack was successfully repelled by security forces, Sylvain Kanyamanda, identified by the Reuters and Associated Press news agencies as Butembo's mayor, said.

    "Because of previous attacks, a security system was already in place and attackers were quickly confronted by the police officers guarding the ...centre," he told Reuters, adding that the attackers belonged to the Mai-Mai rebel group.

    The health worker was shot and being treated in hospital.

    WHO chief visit

    The latest attack came on the same day Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), was due to visit the centre.

    It was not immediately clear if the visit at the facility, which is managed by the DRC's health ministry in collaboration with WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), would still happen.

    "To conquer Ebola in DRC, we must strike a delicate balance between providing accessible care, maintaining the neutrality of the response and protecting patients and staff from attacks by armed groups," Tedros wrote on Twitter later on Saturday.

    "We are committed to ending the outbreak and we will not leave until we do."

     

    'Toxic' atmosphere

    Ebola, a deadly viral disease, broke out in North Kivu in August last year, before spreading to neighbouring Ituri province. Both provinces are wracked by intercommunal violence and unrest.

    According to the latest ministry figures, the DRC's current and worst Ebola outbreak has killed close to 600 people. 

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    Efforts to contain the epidemic, the 10th documented in the country, have been hampered by poor security in the highly unstable region, where numerous militia groups are active.

    On Thursday, a leading medical charity warned that efforts to tackle the outbreak were falling short, accusing the DRC's authorities of failing to contain it because of an overly militarised response that was alienating patients and their families and contributing to the creation of a "toxic" atmosphere.

    Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, highlighted that more than 40 percent of deaths were occurring in communities rather than in Ebola treatment centres.

    The charity alleged that security forces had used "coercion" while overseeing safe burials, tracking contacts and assisting with the admission of patients to treatment centres. 

    But Jessica Ilunga, a spokeswoman for the DRC's health ministry, rejected MSF's claims as a "gross exaggeration of the situation" and said there was a "misunderstanding" about the security forces' role in dealing with the outbreak.

    "The police and the army are not involved in Ebola-response activities, and their role has never been to enforce sanitary measures," Ilunga said.

    "Contrary to international agents, local health workers don't have the privilege of being evacuated when security conditions worsen. As such, it is necessary to reinforce the security to allow for smooth response operations," she added.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies