Ebola treatment centres attacks hamper aid efforts in Congo

A Medecins Sans Frontieres facility destroyed by fire./REUTERS
A Medecins Sans Frontieres facility destroyed by fire./REUTERS

Efforts to control Congo's Ebola outbreak are being hampered by a 'toxic' security situation including a series of attacks on treatment centres, medical chiefs working in the country have said.

There have been '30 different incidents and attacks against elements of the response' to the outbreak, according to Doctors Without Borders.

The medical aid group has temporarily suspended its operations at two of its centres in Congo after arsonists set fire to them.

Doctors Without Borders president Joanne Liu said: 'The existing atmosphere can only be described as toxic. It shows how the response has failed to listen and act on the needs of those most affected.'

As a result, people are still reluctant to bring the sick to treatment centres. More than 40% of Ebola deaths are still taking place in communities rather than at treatment centres, according to the group.

The use of security forces in the area is also complicating efforts, Ms Liu said.

'Using police to force people into complying with health measures is not only unethical it's totally counter-productive,' she said.

Congo has seen periodic outbreaks of the Ebola virus since it was first identified in 1976, though its latest epidemic has now become the second most deadly in history worldwide.

At least 569 people have died among the 907 confirmed and probable cases, according to the World Health Organisation.

The epidemic is taking place in a region of the world wracked by armed conflict for decades. A myriad of armed groups operate in eastern Congo, complicating efforts for the teams that go out into the communities to identify suspected cases of the disease.

Health workers treating patients in the current epidemic have had far more tools at their disposal than they did back in 2014-2016 when more than 11,000 people died of Ebola in West Africa.

This time around, more than 80,000 people have been vaccinated against the disease.