Unknown assailants burned two Doctors Without Borders facilities forcing the organization to pull out of Ebola epicenter in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
A dangerous mix of civil conflict, lack of funds, and local distrust of the outside medical community that has militarized its effort is weakening the fight against the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) raging since at least last August.
Last week Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, had to suspend medical activities in North Kivu, the outbreak epicenter located in eastern DRC, after two of its facilities were burned to the ground by unidentified attackers. The incident was the latest in about 30 attacks on medical posts treating the disease.
On Thursday MSF President Joanne Liu said the outbreak, the country’s 10th in the past 40 years has left 488 people dead and over 800 infected according to MSF, and could only be beaten if authorities there treated patients ethically and humanely.
"There is a lot of militarization of the Ebola response," said Liu. "Using police to force people into complying with health measures is not only unethical, it's totally counterproductive. The communities are not the enemy," said the MSF official.
"The existing atmosphere can only be described as toxic," Liu told reporters at a Geneva press conference.
Simultaneous to this latest Ebola epidemic is an armed conflict between military forces and rebel groups in the region’s outbreak and hotly contested presidential elections that runner up Martin Fayulu is refusing to concede to. Using police forces by some in the ebola effort merely deepened suspicions that the virus was being used as a political tool, said Liu.
A DRC Health Ministry spokesperson denied security forces' were forcing patients to comply with medical procedures. "The police and the army are not involved in Ebola response activities and their role has never been to enforce sanitary measures," Jessica Ilunga said.
In addition to the violence, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says there is a lack of international financing for DRC’s second outbreak within a year.
Last week Dr. Tedos called on donors to continue funding the Ebola response “or risk backsliding.”
In a press release the WHO leader stressed, “there is an urgent need for US$148 million (in order) for all partners involved in the response to continue their work. So far, under US$10 million has been pledged.”
Even though 80,000 had been vaccinated by medical professionals, Tedos warned “the situation is unprecedented: there has never been an Ebola outbreak in these conditions, with such a highly mobile population and with many gaps in the health system.”
He called on the international community to provide funding for the “final push” to eradicate the virus. “We have a shared responsibility to end this outbreak,” said Dr Tedros.
On Thursday, Liu was more blunt: "Ebola still has the upper hand," she said.