Updated: Jun 28, 2020
By Jay Zhou
Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) is an international humanitarian non-governmental organization (NGO) that originated in France. They are most well known for treating patients in countries affected by epidemics. Recently, the aid group has been forced to suspend its work in the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to attacks from the local community.
The first attack took place on February 24, 2019. “It started around ten o’clock,” said Emmanuel Massart, the-on-ground emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in the region. “They started to throw stones. And then they started to put part of the center on fire — where we had all the logistical and water and sanitation equipment.” Around 60 people converged on the group’s treatment center in a rural area called Katwa. The attack only lasted about fifteen minutes, but it was enough time to leave the center in ruins.The next attack took place on February 27 in another treatment center located in a city called Butembo. It was reported that the attackers rammed open the gate with a car and started shooting indiscriminately. Soon the police arrived, causing a larger gunfight. Fortunately, staff at the treatment center had specific protocols which prepared them for such emergencies. Even so, there was still one death and several severe injuries. Several dozen patients who were diagnosed with Ebola fled during the chaos; the rest were safely relocated to another treatment center.
Although more than 200 new patients suspected or diagnosed with Ebola have been reported in the recent weeks, the MSF group will not be able to return until the local riots are quelled. Requesting protection from the Congolese military or even United Nation peacekeepers is not an option because once the aid group accepts the protection of the one side, they will be targeted by another.
“Normally, the population understands that you are doing something good for them, so they will protect you,” Massart said. Therefore, the best way to ensure safety is to gain the support from the community. “There is a level of mistrust in Katwa and Butembo that we have to correct very, very quickly.”
Katwa and Butembo are located in a fairly isolated, impoverished region in the east part of DRC, very close to the border with Uganda. The region has had a complicated history of armed conflicts that have made the locals very wary of outsiders. Besides, Ebola is a disease that has not touched this region in the past, so the locals are not taking it as seriously. The recent violence in the region has greatly hindered progress for containing the disease because it dissuades people from coming forward for treatment. The MSF has tried to educate the locals about the disease, but the work has been proven fruitless due to the variety of the local groups and their different responses. The current situation poses a major setback for the MSF group as the death rate is increasing everyday and the disease is getting more and more contagious. The group will continue to provide patient care in other less violent areas until the problems in Katwa and Butembo are solved.