Response to Ebola in Congo hampered by violence, says group


Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) need to reframe their approach to the ongoing Ebola epidemic in the country as an issue of managing an infectious disease rather than a security problem, giving patients more control over their treatment, Joanne Liu, the worldwide president of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) charity, said during a press conference on Thursday.

The medical aid group has temporarily suspended its operations at two of its centres in Congo after arsonists set fire to them.

Tackling Ebola in DR Congo was always going to be a huge challenge - decades of conflict mean health services are weak or non-existent, different communities fear one another, and they fear the security services.

A range of issues, including the fact that elections were postponed due to the Ebola outbreak and that police and armed forces have been used to force people to comply with health measures have contributed to the distrust.

The Government of Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the support of WHO and partners, carried out a vaccination campaign in high-risk populations against Ebola virus disease in affected health zones.

Seven months into the outbreak, 'the Ebola response is failing to bring the epidemic under control, ' Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a statement.

The arsons were part of dozens of attacks against the Ebola response as a whole in the past month alone, according to MSF.

As of March 6, health officials reported 907 confirmed and probable Ebola infections linked to the ongoing outbreak, including 569 deaths.

She blamed not the communities, but the responders, for failing to win people's trust.

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

The battle against Ebola in Congo is failing because ordinary people do not trust health workers and an overly militarized response is alienating patients and families, says the head of Doctors Without Borders (also called Médecins Sans Frontières).

"They hear constant advice to wash their hands, but nothing about the lack of soap and water", Liu said. "They see relatives buried without ceremony and see their possessions burned", she said. More than 40% of Ebola deaths are still taking place in communities rather than at treatment centres, according to the group.

A spokeswoman for the DRC's health ministry said there was a "misunderstanding" about the role of security forces in dealing with the outbreak, however, and rejected the MSF's claims as a "gross exaggeration of the situation". It added that community members have demanded overall security improvements across the area and that a return to security is one of MSF's conditions for returning to Butembo and Katwa.