Ebola response in DR Congo 'failing' to contain outbreak: MSF

Alicia Farmer
March 9, 2019

Efforts to end the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second-largest such epidemic ever, are failing because outside organizations have alienated the communities, leading residents to avoid medical care and even to attack treatment centers, Dr. Joanne Liu, the global president of Doctors Without Borders, said Thursday.

MSF's worldwide president Joanne Liu said the outbreak, which killed 569 people, would not be beaten unless the community trusted authorities and are treated humanely.

Two of the medical aid group's facilities at the focal point of the epidemic were recently attacked by unidentified assailants.

The use of police and the military to force communities to comply with Ebola care and prevention measures has been condemned by one of the organisations at the forefront of efforts to bring the current outbreak under control.

There have been dozens of attacks on health workers - meanwhile Ebola victims stay in hiding, no-one knows where they are or who they have been in contact with.

A range of issues have led to these tensions: from the massive deployment of financial resources focusing only on Ebola, in a neglected region suffering from conflict, violence and long standing health needs; to elections being officially postponed due to the Ebola outbreak, exacerbating suspicions that Ebola is a political ploy.

The charity says the Ebola response must change - no more coercion to track and treat patients, and more choice for families on how to manage the disease.

The DRC's current Ebola outbreak, its tenth to date, has killed at least 569 people.

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Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, has suspended its Ebola activities in Katwa and Butembo in North Kivu Province.

Amid the turmoil, health workers and emergency responders have struggled to win the cooperation of affected communities, many of which are deeply distrustful of the government and a rollout of medical strategies - supervised by security forces - which have clashed with local customs. "Patients must be treated as patients, and not as some kind of biothreat".

"The existing atmosphere can only be described as toxic", MSF International President Dr. Joanne Liu said.

"Ebola is a brutal disease, bringing fear and isolation to patients, families, and healthcare providers", Liu said. "[Villagers] see their relatives sprayed with chlorine and wrapped in plastic bags, buried without ceremony".

Although citizens in Congo maybe rushing to treatment centers, more than 40 percent of people who have contracted Ebola are dying at home rather than in hospitals.

A spokesperson for Congo's health ministry said there appeared to be confusion about the security forces' role.

MSF was insisting on security before it returned to its damaged facilities, she said.

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