Ebola in DRC: MSF stops activities in Biakato due to presence of armed forces in medical structures

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF

Biakato, DRC/New York, December 24, 2019—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has ended its medical activities in Biakato, in the Ituri province of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), due to the presence of armed forces around and within health structures, the international medical humanitarian organization announced Tuesday.

MSF has worked in Biakato since 2016 with the Ministry of Health to assist victims of sexual violence. Since the start of the Ebola epidemic, MSF has expanded its operations, not only managing suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola and implementing hygiene and infection control measures in several health facilities in the region but also by offering free primary health and pediatric hospital care.

"We are no longer able to work in accordance with our principles of neutrality and impartiality," said Ewenn Chenard, MSF emergency coordinator. “We regret this decision, but the presence of armed forces around and within the health structures of Biakato goes against our principles."

The security deployment in the Biakato region follows a series of attacks on November 27 and 28 during which three aid workers were murdered.

“We are aware that a solution is needed to ensure the protection of the civilian population and the safety of medical personnel after the tragic events of November,” said Chennard.  “However, we firmly believe that military presence in health facilities undermines the neutrality and impartiality of medical aid. It is essential that health structures remain free of weapons so that communities feel safe to come and seek care.”

MSF has worked in Ituri since 2003, providing lifesaving care to the most vulnerable populations. In support of the Ministry of Health, MSF is currently intervening in the context of the ongoing measles epidemic, with displaced persons from the territories of Djugu and Mahagi, for victims of sexual violence in the Mambasa region, as well as in the fight against the Ebola outbreak.