(KINSHASA, Congo) — Armed assailants again attacked an Ebola treatment center in the heart of eastern Congo’s deadly outbreak on Saturday, with the mayor reporting one police officer killed.
The early-morning attack in Butembo came less than a week after the treatment center reopened following an attack last month that forced aid group Doctors Without Borders to suspend its operations in the city. Security forces repelled Saturday’s attackers, one of whom was wounded, Butembo Mayor Sylvain Kanyamanda said.
The latest attack occurred hours before the World Health Organization director-general visited the center, which remains open. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus encouraged health workers to continue their fight against the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is spreading in a region that health workers have compared to a war zone.
Dozens of armed groups are active in eastern Congo, though some have allowed health workers access to administer Ebola vaccines and track contacts of infected people after delicate negotiations.
In addition, some residents wary of outsiders after years of deadly rebel attacks have shown hostility to health workers in a region that is facing its first Ebola outbreak. Misunderstandings have been high, especially over the need to conduct safe burials, a highly sensitive issue. Ebola is spread via bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead.
On Thursday, the Doctors Without Borders president warned that Ebola containment efforts face a “climate of deepening community mistrust” seven months after the outbreak was declared.
Congo’s health ministry, which on Sunday tweeted a photo of smiling health workers reopening the Butembo treatment center, says 853 Ebola cases have been confirmed in this outbreak, including 578 deaths.
Reprise du travail avec le sourire au Centre de Traitement #Ebola de #Butembo ce week-end.Les équipes de logistique ont mis toute leur énergie dans la réhabilitation de cette structure afin de continuer à assurer la prise en charge adéquate et digne des patients. pic.twitter.com/AVIys6sbTI
— Ministère de la Santé RDC (@MinSanteRDC) March 3, 2019
Another Ebola treatment center in Katwa was attacked late last month, with one person killed. Doctors Without Borders also has suspended its operations there.
For those trying to contain the outbreak, the attacks are occurring in the worst possible locations. Butembo and Katwa made up more than 86 percent of new confirmed cases over the past three weeks, Congo’s health ministry said Monday.
This outbreak, declared in August, is second to the one in West Africa that killed more than 11,300 people during 2014-2016.