Health

Doctors Without Borders has to close ebola treatment center in DRC after attack

The center’s at the heart of the Ebola outbreak in the country.

Photo: UNMEER/Martine Perret

Photo: UNMEER/Martine Perret

An Ebola treatment center managed by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Katwa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been closed.

The medical humanitarian organization says unidentified assailants attacked the 70-bed center with stones before setting it on fire — destroying wards and equipment, and leaving it partially burned. The brother of a patient died in the attack.

Emmanuel Massart, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Katwa, said: “This attack was traumatic for patients, their relatives, and staff present inside the center at the time.”

Katwa is also one of the regions that’s been hit the hardest by the latest, and 10th, Ebola outbreak in the country.

MSF says the outbreak is the worst to hit the country, and the second largest outbreak recorded anywhere in Africa. More than 870 people have been infected and 540 killed since the Ministry of Health declared the outbreak in August last year.

Katwa is in North Kivu, a region that has been marred by constant conflict and violent outbreaks for more than two decades. It has sparked an ongoing humanitarian crisis that has caused the world's worst displacement crisis, with more than 1.7 million people having abandoned their farms and villages in 2017.

The provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Kasai, and Tanganyika are the the epicenters of conflict in DRC.

The constant conflict has also increased hunger in the region, a challenge that the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to acknowledge in May 2018. Conflict has been identified as a leading cause of growing hunger around the world — around 815 million people around the world are currently going hungry, with 489 million of these living in conflict zones.

The attack in Katwa has added another stumbling block in the fight against Ebola: as well as leaving patients vulnerable and without essential treatment, the Ministry of Health has also reported that some people don’t seek treatment or use traditional medicine. Without a proper treatment facility, people will have no other place to turn.

MSF has Ebola treatment centers in Butembo and Katwa, transit centers in Beni and Bwana Sura, and isolation centers in Bunia and Kayna.

The centers have received 3,292 people, but as MSF says: “People continue to die in the community as health teams aren’t able to gain trust to access all areas, including many that already have limited access to even basic health care since they're affected by conflict.”

“The attack,” Massart says, “has crippled our ability to respond to what is now the epicenter of the outbreak.”

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