The charity Doctors Without Borders has suspended its Ebola virus-fighting operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo after attacks on two of its treatment centers this week, raising the risk that Ebola infections in the area will increase.
The World Health Organization has called the Feb. 24 attack in Katwa and the Feb. 27 attack in Butembo “deplorable.” In Butembo, where the center housed 12 confirmed Ebola patients and 38 with suspected Ebola, four patients with the highly contagious virus fled for their lives. One is still missing.
The attackers set fire to the treatment centers and engaged in gunfire with security forces.
MSF halts treatment
Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medicins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, announced Friday it had halted treatment in Butembo, in the eastern RDC province of North Kivu. It had done the same earlier in the week in Katwa, the latest hot spot in the outbreak first reported last August.
WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told reporters that experts must now track possible paths of infection.
“It is highly important to find those people, that last patient, and then, of course, immediately start the contact tracing and monitor the contacts these patients might have been in touch with,” Lindmeier said.
DRC health minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga told VOA French to Africa that the problem with the Ebola situation lies in Katwa and Butembo, where “communities are not fully engaged.” He also said armed groups and unidentified gunmen are common in the area.
A spokeswoman for DRC’s health ministry, Jessica Ilunga, said the government will examine options over the next few days to protect health agents and stop any spread of the disease resulting from the attacks.
Michel Yao, incident manager for the WHO, said of the attackers: “It looks like an organized group that wants to target treatment centers.” He said the loss is great because the centers that were damaged had been testing experimental treatments with some success.
Whitney Elmer of the group Mercy Corps told The New York Times that the loss of two treatment centers at the midst of the outbreak is “crippling.”
Hundreds with disease
The Health Ministry reported that at least 885 have contracted the disease, and 550 have died of it, since the outbreak began.
The Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, declared in August, is the second largest in history, after the 2014 epidemic in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people. The WHO says the risk remains “very high” for the outbreak to spread across the borders into Rwanda, Uganda or South Sudan — or to spread nationally across the DRC.