The charity Doctors Without Borders warns a climate of deepening mistrust and suspicion in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is hampering efforts to bring an Ebola epidemic under control. The outbreak, which started, last year, has killed more than 500 people in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, has suspended its Ebola activities in Katwa and Butembo in North Kivu Province.
This follows attacks on two of its treatment centers last week. In the last month alone, the agency says more than 30 attacks and security incidents have taken place in this volatile area.
International MSF president Joanne Liu says the Ebola epidemic, the largest ever in DRC, is taking place amid growing political, social and economic grievances. She says many communities believe Ebola is being used as an excuse for political maneuvers.
Liu says the decision to exclude two areas — Beni and Butembo — from voting in the December presidential elections has only added to the suspicion that Ebola is being used as a political tool.
“The use of coercion adds fuel to this, using police to force people into complying with health measures is not only unethical, it is totally counterproductive,” she said. “The communities are not the enemy. Ebola is a common enemy.”
Latest reports from the World Health Organization put the number of Ebola cases in eastern Congo at 907, including 569 deaths.
Liu tells VOA the government is painting the Ebola epidemic as a security emergency. She says MSF worries about the disease being framed as an issue of public order.
“We think as physicians that it is an epidemic, an infectious disease issue and that we need to treat patients and not as an enemy of the nation,” she said. “People need to feel that we are with them and we want the best for their care. And, that they want to be in our center because they believe that is going to be the best way to fight Ebola.”
Liu says coercion must not be used as a way to track and treat patients, to enforce safe burials or decontaminate homes. She says communities must be treated with respect and understanding. She says patients must be treated as such, and not as some kind of biothreat.