The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has denounced an attack on an Ebola treatment centre in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during a visit to the facility, just hours after a raid which killed a policeman and wounded a health worker.
On Saturday, during a tour of the centre, located at Butembo in North Kivu province, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said violence in the region was undermining the early progress made by authorities in fighting the ongoing outbreak of the lethal disease.
“Attacks on the Ebola treatment centre are not by the community, these are attacks on the community,” Tedros said in a tweet.
“We have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world,” he added.
"It breaks my heart to think of the life we lost in this attack on the #Ebola treatment centre, as we continue to mourn those who have died in previous attacks, while defending the right to health"- @DrTedros from Butembo, #DRC pic.twitter.com/XAMJ8Wr7B1
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 9, 2019
The Butembo facility reopened last week after an attack by gunmen the previous Wednesday forced its closure.
Butembo Mayor Sylvain Kanyamanda told the AFP news agency the raid on Saturday had started with shooting at about six in the morning (04:00GMT) and resumed 30 minutes later “with resistance from the army and the police”. The health worker who was shot was being treated in hospital.
“The army and the police caught one of the attackers,” Kanyamanda said, saying he was a member of the Mai-Mai rebel group.
This was the third attack on the centre, the mayor added, branding the attackers as “terrorists” who wanted to “kill the sick”.
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.
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.
Health centres have repeatedly come under attack in the seven months since the breakout begun.
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.