An armed attack on February 27, 2019 led to setting fires in an Ebola treatment center in the eastern city of Butembo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The armed assailants became embroiled in an extended gun battle with security forces.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its vast natural resources. The east of the country is still reeling from the Congo Wars, which claimed an estimated six million lives from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.
The Ebola treatment center was being run by Doctors without Borders whose non-governmental organization is recognized by the French acronym MSF that stands for Médecins Sans Frontières. The NGO is an aid agency that serves in troubled areas of the world which lack adequate medical facilities. They work in 20 of the 26 provinces of the DRC which is torn by an armed conflict that is fueled by ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared their tenth outbreak of Ebola in 40 years on 1st August 2018. MSF along with other response teams have set up mobile camps in order to control the outbreak of the virus.
The mayor of a city in Congo and medical aid group Doctors Without Borders released a statement saying that intruders wreaked havoc at an Ebola treatment center in the eastern city of Butembo, setting fires to tents and destroying medical equipment. The identity and motive of the assailants were unclear.
MSF, which runs the center together with the ministry, condemned the “deplorable attack” and said its efforts were focused on the immediate safety of patients and staff. The health ministry said in a statement that 38 suspected Ebola patients and 12 confirmed cases were in the center at the time of the attack. Four of the patients with confirmed cases fled and are being traced. They also added that none of the patients or staff that were accounted for were injured during the attack.
Aid workers have faced a lot of mistrust due to widespread rumours in some areas as they work to contain the Ebola outbreak. The outbreak that was declared last August is the second-deadliest that the country has witnessed since the first outbreak in 1976. The hemorrhagic fever has led to the death of 561 people while infecting 300 more.
Armed militia in the DRC regularly attacks civilians and security forces in eastern Congo’s borderlands with Uganda and Rwanda, which has significantly hampered the response to the disease. Wednesday’s attack in the city of Butembo was the second in a week’s time. On Sunday, February 24, unidentified assailants set fire to another treatment center in the nearby town of Katwa, killing a nurse.
In response to the attack that happened on Sunday, the mayor of Butembo had reinforced the security forces in the city that led to the gun battle between the Congolese Army personnel and the armed assailants.
Sylvain Mbusa Kanyamanda, the mayor of Butembo said,”Elements from the Congolese army have been deployed to contain the situation.” The attacks occurred despite President Felix Tshisekedi’s recent calls for better armed UN peacekeepers in his first meeting with foreign diplomats after taking power. The meeting took place on Friday, February 15th following the deterioration of the security situation in the country.
Aid agencies in the country are always under duress due to the lack of security and safety. MSF has suspended all of its non-essential activities in the province of North Kivu earlier this month when two of their staff members were abducted by armed assailants.
Our assessment is that aid agencies such as MSF working to control the Ebola outbreak since last year are constantly running into trouble with armed assailants. The wrecking of camps causes a lot of strain on the privately funded NGO and the government. Although countermeasures have been taken up, the country seems to be descending into chaos. The containment of the outbreak seems to be in serious difficulty due the continuous attacks on medical camps.
Image Courtesy: MSF Switzerland