An Ebola treatment center in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was attacked over the weekend by an armed militia, leaving one Congolese police officer dead. According to a report from the Associated Press (AP), an untold number of staff members working at the center were also wounded in the attack. The attack is the second in two weeks at the center, a clear indication violence against healthcare workers and Ebola victims in the DRC remains one of the largest hurdles the world faces in stopping the outbreak.
“It breaks my heart to think of the health workers injured and police officer who died in today’s attack,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Although no motive has been uncovered, Tedros claims the attackers “are exploiting the desperation of the situation for their own purposes.”
In a show of resiliency, the treatment center reopened shortly after the assault. Congolese authorities maintain these attacks are being perpetrated by outsiders. However, the people living in the areas hardest hit by the Ebola virus have a deep cultural mistrust of the government, and many are not educated about the virus and how it spreads. If these attacks continue unchecked, many Congolese health ministry officials believe the outbreak will only worsen.
Desperation may be the correct summary of the current Ebola outbreak, which is now the second-largest in modern history. The previous attack forced Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, to withdraw its much-needed personnel from North Kivu, and further violence may force other aid organizations to halt operations as well. At last report, nearly 1,000 people have contracted the virus and 582 have died.
Despite increased violence and a deteriorating security situation, healthcare workers in the DRC have effectively prevented the disease from spreading to neighboring countries. Other non-governmental agencies have vaccinated more than 80,000 people, and millions more have been screened by medical staff during border transits. However, when Ebola treatment centers come under attack, officials have no choice but to move the patients to other facilities, which also increases the chances the virus will spread.
Even in the face of overwhelming danger, both the Congolese health ministry and the WHO show no signs of letting up in their fight. According to the AP, Ghebreyesus told reporters the WHO “will not leave” until the outbreak is over. When that will be, however, remains to be determined.