Ebola outbreak in DRC: MSF temporarily withdraws from Biakato

Medical staff member gets dressed in full Personal Protective Equipment to go into the high risk zone of an MSF-managed Ebola Transit Center in Bunia.
Democratic Republic of Congo 2019 © Pablo Garrigos/MSF
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Due to a deteriorating security situation, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) made the difficult decision to temporarily withdraw its staff from the Biakato region of Ituri province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on December 4, 2019. After months of working extremely closely with the community to address the health needs in the region, MSF is saddened to have made this decision.

In the early morning of Tuesday, December 3, a group of people armed with sticks and machetes entered the Biakato health center. They didn’t reach the Ebola treatment center located within, and no one was injured.

During the same night, a group of people also armed with sticks and machetes attempted to enter the MSF compound in Biakato Mines. Rocks were thrown at the compound for a brief period, but no one was injured

These events followed the deadly attack against Ebola responders in Biakato on the night of November 27. In the days following the attack, MSF remained in the area to provide medical care in local health center and in the Biakato Mines Ebola treatment center in collaboration with Congolese Ministry of Health. It was a challenging few days, as many Ebola responders and organizations had evacuated the area and access to health care was extremely limited for people in the region.

MSF had been providing health care in the Biakato region since 2016. During the Ebola outbreak, we worked closely with the Biakato community to identify and help respond to both Ebola and non-Ebola health priorities in the region, including the rehabilitation of wells and the construction of a pediatric ward. In support to the Ministry of Health, MSF also provided access to free, primary health care and inpatient pediatric care. In November 2019, also with the Ministry of Health, MSF built and managed an Ebola treatment center in Biakato.

But MSF cannot work if the security of our staff and patients is not ensured. It is not yet clear who was responsible for the attempted intrusions on the compound and health center, nor is the motivation known. Without a guarantee of security, MSF made the difficult decision to temporarily withdraw staff from the Biakato region.

Prior to departure, MSF ensured that necessary materials were provided to the Ministry of Health for them to continue providing the community with medical care. We will continue to monitor the situation and hope to be able to return to Biakato soon.

MSF has worked in DRC since 1977, responding to disease outbreaks, population displacements, natural disasters, and more.