Amidst a deadly Ebola outbreak, on Saturday morning armed militia members brutally attacked an Ebola clinic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) eastern city of Butembo, prompting a call from the UN's global health agency chief “to protect the treatment centres”.
Just hours after the assault, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), toured the centre, which was also attacked last week, thanking personnel for their steadfast dedication.
“It breaks my heart to think of the health workers injured and police officer who died in today’s attack, as we continue to mourn those who died in previous attacks, while defending the right to health", he said. “But we have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world".
The visit came as he concluded a three-day mission to the country, along with other WHO leadership and senior United States officials who met with the President, Government officials, partner organizations and local responders involved in the outbreak response. He also spoke to a group of partners, officials and staff in Butembo.
He stressed that “these are not attacks BY the community, they are attacks ON the community” conducted by “elements who are exploiting the desperation of the situation for their own purposes”.
“The people of Katwa and Butembo, as in the other communities affected by Ebola, want and deserve a place to receive care and a chance of survival”, he spelled out. “They do not deserve to suffer in their homes while infecting their loved ones, they do not deserve to suffer in inadequately resourced health centers while infecting health workers”.
After careful negotiations, health workers have been allowed in the area which is home to dozens of armed groups, according to news reports. But attacks on treatment centers greatly hinder the ability to contain the disease, as fear pushes people to flee , possibly spreading the virus further afield.
“WHO has requested and received further support from UN and local police forces to protect the treatment centres” the WHO chief continued.
To conquer Ebola, he explained “we must strike a delicate balance between providing accessible care, maintaining the neutrality of the response, and protecting patients and staff from attacks by armed groups”.
Pointing out that “these are the dilemmas we face in conflict zones around the world”, he concluded by reiterating WHO’s commitment “to ending the outbreak, and “to improving the health of the people of DRC”.