DRC: MSF suspends medical activities after Ebola Treatment Center attack

Butembo and its surroundings, the new epicentre of the outbreak

Democratic Republic of Congo 2018 © Alexis Huguet/MSF

NEW YORK/BUTEMBO, FEBRUARY 28, 2019—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has suspended its medical activities at two sites at the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), following two separate attacks on our Ebola treatment centers in recent days. 

On February 27, unidentified assailants set fire to our facilities and several vehicles at the Ebola treatment center (ETC) in the city of Butembo. The blazes were contained and no staff or patients were harmed, but the teams were forced to immediately cease patient care. At the time of the attack, there were 57 patients admitted in the ETC—which was run alongside the Ministry of Health—including 15 people who were confirmed to have Ebola. All patients still in the ETC were transferred to a transit center.

This incident comes only days after another MSF-supported Ebola treatment facility was attacked on February 24 in the neighboring district of Katwa, forcing its suspension. MSF has evacuated staff from the area for their safety pending a thorough analysis of the risks associated with continuing to provide medical care there.

“We are extremely saddened by these attacks on our medical facilities. Not only did they endanger the lives of our staff members, but they also endangered the most vulnerable people at the heart of our response: the patients,” said MSF Emergency Desk Manager Hugues Robert. “In light of these two violent incidents, we have no choice but to suspend our activities until further notice. As medical responders, it is very painful to have to leave behind patients, their families, and other members of the community at such a critical time in the Ebola response.”

Both attacks were traumatic for patients, relatives, and staff who were inside the centers at the time. In the Katwa attack, the caretaker of one patient died, reportedly when he tried to flee.

Almost seven months after the beginning of the current Ebola outbreak in the provinces of North-Kivu and Ituri, there have been 879 confirmed cases of Ebola and 553 people have died.

Despite the suspension of activities at the treatment centers in Butembo and Katwa, MSF continues to manage Ebola-related activities in North Kivu province, in the towns of Kayna and Lubéru. MSF has also been supporting emergency preparedness in the city of Goma by reinforcing the surveillance system and ensuring there is adequate capacity to isolate suspected cases. In Ituri province, MSF runs two Ebola isolation facilities in the towns of Bwanasura and Bunia.