Two Ebola treatment centers in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been attacked and burned down in separate attacks over the last several days. The medical facilities were owned and operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, and provided much-needed assistance to the population of North Kivu province, which is the area hardest hit by the recent Ebola outbreak. According to a report from Reuters, at least one healthcare worker was killed during an attack and another four Ebola patients absconded.
It is not known which militia group is responsible for the attack, nor has a motive been discovered. Several militant groups are operating in the area, including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) of Uganda, which is loosely allied with Islamic terror groups such as al-Shabaab. The ADF has attacked Congolese soldiers in the past, and in late December of last year, the group attacked and burned down an Ebola treatment center in Beni, North Kivu, according to a report from the Japan Times.
“This attack has not only put the lives of Ebola patients and their families in danger, but also those of MSF and Ministry of Health staff,” wrote Hugues Robert, MSF emergency desk manager in a recent press release. “Our efforts are currently focused on the immediate safety of both staff and patients.”
Due to the increasing level of violence against the Ebola centers, MSF has suspended all operations in Butembo and Katwa, North Kivu province. Without the medical expertise of the MSF personnel, the chances of the virus spreading increases. Although the outbreak is currently contained to the DRC, the outbreak’s epicenter is close to the Ugandan border, and experts fear the virus could cross into neighboring countries, exposing thousands more to the deadly disease.
“In light of these two violent incidents, we have no choice but to suspend our activities until further notice,” said Robert. “As medical responders, it is very painful to have to leave behind patients, their families and other members of the community at such a critical time in the Ebola response.”
⚡️ #DRCongo News Update
In light of two recent violent attacks on our #Ebola Treatment Centers, we have no choice but to suspend our activities in Butembo and Katwa until further notice.
Our full statement: https://t.co/RK6N5t3wBM
— MSF International (@MSF) February 28, 2019
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 879 Ebola cases in the DRC since the outbreak began in August of last year. Of those patients, 553 have died as a result of the hemorrhagic fever. Nearly a third of all patients have been children under the age of 18, and more than half have been women. Although experts from various groups have called on the WHO to classify the current outbreak—which is the second largest in history—a public health crisis, the group claims that “global risk levels remain low.”