In the midst of the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, a center in Butembo in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been attacked. One police officer was killed and health workers were injured. This is the second attack in a month.
According to the Associated Press, heavily armed assailants attacked the Ebola treatment center early in the morning on Saturday. This attack came less than a week after the center re-opened due to an earlier strike last month that saw Doctors Without Borders having to suspend operations.
Security forces were believed to have repelled the assailants. According to Butembo Mayor, Sylvain Kanyamanda, one of the security members was wounded during the attack but continued to help hold the attackers back while terrified patients hid inside the treatment center. Details of the police officer who was killed during the attack have not been released yet.
Last Sunday, Congo’s Ministry of Health tweeted a photo of the Butembo treatment center, according to NPR. The image showed that health workers were back to work against the deadly Ebola outbreak after the previous strike.
However, by Saturday, the center was under attack once more. This occurred hours before the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director were due to visit the treatment center. Despite the attack, the center remained open.
An Ebola treatment center in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been attacked for the second time in the past month.https://t.co/PSFgI5uQ8f
— NPR (@NPR) March 9, 2019
WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, spoke out about the incident.
“It breaks my heart to think of the health workers injured and police officer who died in today’s attack,” he said.
Tedros also stated that WHO has requested and received more support from the United Nations as well as local police forces in order to protect treatment centers from further attacks. He also blamed the attack on “elements who are exploiting the desperation of the situation for their own purposes.”
It is believed that dozens of armed groups are present in Congo. While some allow health workers to access Ebola patients in order to administer vaccines, other groups show disregard for the current Ebola outbreak.
“These are not attacks by the community, these are attacks on the community,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said, according to NPR.
“We have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world.”
The Doctors Without Borders president, Joanne Liu, warned that Ebola containment efforts had to be maintained, even amid a “climate of deepening community mistrust.”
Even though attacks have occurred on the center, warranting the need for security forces, the community are reluctant to bring in contaminated members for treatment. This has “deeply complicated efforts to track contacts of infected people and carry out vaccinations,” according to the Associated Press.
Congo’s health ministry is now warning that as a result of the current attacks, which have not been contained to just the treatment center in Butembo, there could be a “significant upsurge” of Ebola cases reported in the near future. Already there has been an increase of 86 percent in confirmed Ebola cases over the last three weeks. In addition. “854 Ebola cases have been confirmed since this outbreak was declared on August 1, including 578 deaths.”
Regardless of the continued attacks, WHO is determined to continue treating those affected by Ebola.
“We are committed to ending the outbreak,” the WHO chief said, “And we will not leave until we do.”