DRC: Ebola response failing to gain the upper hand on the epidemic

Doctors Without Borders hampered by violence in responding to Ebola in Congo

There have been some "30 different incidents and attacks against elements of the response" in eastern Congo, the medical group's president Joanne Liu told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

Two of her organization's treatment centers were attacked in the last two weeks, prompting the group to close them.

DRC health officials have stepped up community talks in Butembo to better understand the gap between health workers and community members, and Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga, MD, has acknowledged that using response teams accompanied by police in less secure areas has been perceived with suspicion.

MSF said one of the latest discouraging wrinkles in the Ebola crisis came when the DRC suspended elections, leading skeptics of the government to suspect the Ebola outbreak is nothing but a political ploy.

The charity said the epidemic would not end until authorities treated patients as "partners in the response" and increased efforts to "listen to their needs, not preach to or coerce them".

Liu warned that growing reliance on the security services to bring people to treatment centres was spurring hostility.

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) held a press conference on Thursday explaining the long-term implications if the outbreak isn't brought under control.

The largest Ebola outbreak to date killed more than 11,000 people in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between December 2013 and April 2016.

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The MSF president added that in light of this, MSF were seeking to provide patients with more control over their Ebola treatment.

"The existing atmosphere can only be described as toxic", Liu said.

"There is something that needs to be reframed", Liu said. "The police and the army are not involved in Ebola response activities and their role has never been to enforce sanitary measures".

Three Canadians - one doctor and two nurses - were working in those centres but are safe.

A spokeswoman for Congo's Health Ministry said there appeared to be confusion about the security forces' role.

"Contrary to global agents, local health workers don't have the privilege of being evacuated when security conditions worsen". Choices must be given back to patients and their families on how to manage the disease.

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

MSF physicians say they have more success getting villagers to accept vaccinations when government troops are not present, but unfortunately their lives could be at risk from armed insurgents if they do not travel with military protection. Instead, they've alienated communities, causing Congo residents to avoid care or attack Ebola treatment centers.

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