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Ebola response in DR Congo 'failing' to contain outbreak: MSF

10 March 2019
Ebola response in DR Congo 'failing' to contain outbreak: MSF

Despite new vaccines and treatments, people with Ebola have been dying in their communities because they do not trust the health response enough to come forward, MSF President Joanne Liu said at a press conference in Geneva.

Her comments came after MSF suspended its activities at two treatment centres in North Kivu after the sites were attacked.

'Using police to force people into complying with health measures is not only unethical it's totally counter-productive, ' she said. More than 40 per cent of the deaths are still taking place in communities rather than at Ebola treatment centres, according to the group, also known by its French acronym MSF. At the end of February, an Ebola treatment center was partially destroyed in Butembo and its township, Katwa. While MSF does not know the motives or identities of the attackers, these incidents follow an escalation of tensions around the Ebola response.

Villagers saw fleets of cars racing to pick up a single sick person and vast amounts of money pouring in.

Liu said there are signs the Ebola outbreak in Congo - the second worst in the world's history - was not being brought under control.

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.

It also means that untold numbers of people around these patients have been exposed and may have contracted the disease.

"The existing atmosphere can only be described as toxic", she said. It said there's a misunderstanding about the role of law enforcement in the outbreak areas and that police and military are not involved in response activities and their role has never been to force compliance with sanitary measures.

A spokeswoman for the DRC's health ministry said there was a "misunderstanding" about the role of security forces in dealing with the outbreak, however, and rejected the MSF's claims as a "gross exaggeration of the situation".

"They hear constant advice to wash their hands, but nothing about the lack of soap and water", Liu said. "As such, it is necessary to re-enforce the security to allow for smooth response operations", she added.

"We have a striking contradiction", said Liu.

Six more people died from their infections, including 3 in the community and 3 in ETCs, boosting the outbreak's fatality count to 574.

The DRC's current outbreak has seen no new cases registered within 21 days in about half of the 19 health zones affected by the epidemic, Jasarevic told Al Jazeera, adding the figures provided authorities with a cause for "cautious optimism".

"We can share the right messages but if you have counter messages that makes it hard", Ilunga said.