Battling the DRC Ebola Treatment Center Attacks

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KINSHASA, The Democratic Republic of the Congo — The DRC is grappling with a new outbreak of the Ebola virus, relying on several medical centers to help aid the growing numbers of patients. Since the region has been battling with long-term conflict, effective response from health care organizations has been significantly hindered. The DRC Ebola treatment center attacks have escalated significantly, resulting in the temporary closing of several treatment units and the inability of aid organizations to safely provide treatment to patients.

Ebola Statistics in DRC

The current Ebola epidemic in the DRC began in August 2018 and is now listed as the second-deadliest and second-largest in history, only beaten by the West Africa Ebola outbreak of 2014. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported the current number of Ebola cases in the DRC as 913, with 574 people already dead from the disease.

The Attacks

As the DRC continues to battle the Ebola epidemic, certain cities in the country have had to grapple with a new issue: armed attacks on treatment units. The latest attack took place in the city of Butembo on March 9, 2019, killing a police officer and wounding a health care worker. This attack occurred less than a week after the Ebola treatment center reopened its doors after recovering from a previous assault.

After the first attack on the Butembo center on February 24, outside medical aid for the DRC was heavily affected. Doctors Without Borders, a global aid organization, was forced to suspend their work across the DRC out of concern for the safety of aid workers. Doctors Without Borders workers are believed to have been the target of the first attack.

A large problem with fending off the DRC Ebola treatment center attacks is the lack of security within the region. The DRC has been wracked with conflict for years, creating a much more difficult situation for both patients and aid workers. Doctors Without Borders noted that almost 40 percent of the Ebola deaths have occurred in communities rather than treatment centers, as the fear of violence has caused many to avoid seeking medical attention.

Fighting Back

Despite the latest violent attack, the center in Butembo did not close its doors again. The armed assault took place mere hours before The World Health Organization’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was due to visit the center. Instead of canceling his trip upon hearing of the violence, Ghebreyesus chose to continue with his visit with patients and aid workers at the Butembo center.

Ghebreyesus also vowed that the WHO will not evacuate the DRC until the latest Ebola epidemic is eradicated. He spoke out against the violence, insisting that “These are not attacks by the community, these are attacks on the community. We have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world.”

Additionally, the issue of lax security is appearing to be addressed. While the Butembo treatment center suffered a fatal attack, the armed individuals were able to be intercepted much faster due to a newly installed security system.

The mayor of Butembo, Sylvain Kanyamanda, released a statement praising the effectiveness of the security measures, stating, “Because of previous attacks, a security system was already in place and attackers were quickly confronted by the police officers guarding the center.”

The DRC Ebola treatment center attacks are severely affecting the ability of patients to access life-saving health care, as well as infringing on the safety of civilians and aid workers. Though the DRC is embedded in violent conflict, the determination of Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization and local health care workers do not seem to be fading. With new security measures to keep attacks at bay, it is hopeful that more patients will be able to safely get the care they deserve.

– Holli Flanagan
Photo: Flickr

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