Eight months into the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), response effort is facing a major setback as the Mavono Health Centre, which serves the Muchanga Health Area in Katwa Health Zone, was attacked on 11 February 2019.
The crowd of attackers set fire on the health centre burning its 16 beds, pharmacy, solar system for storing vaccines, and several other equipment and supplies. A community chief, who lives near the clinic, and service providers were saved by the timely intervention of the veranda muchanga collective.
“When I was approaching the health centre I saw a crowd of young boys and girls aged about 12 to 16 years coming to attack the centre. I quickly rushed to alert those who were inside and went out again. Then they started beating me, but thank God I was able to escape. I was treated in the hospital and as you can see I’m still limping,” said a Community Relay at Muchanga Health Area.
Katwa has been the epicentre of the current epidemic in Butembo Region, and reluctance by community members, fueled by rumors, has been a major impediment to response efforts. According to the Ministry of Public Health, 65 percent of all new confirmed cases in the DRC between late December 2018 and mid-January 2019 were recorded in Katwa and Butembo health zones.
The recent attack was caused by a disagreement between the dignified and secure burial team and the family of a confirmed Ebola couple who died in Itav. The family wanted to transport their bodies to their village of origin while the sub-coordination committee advised, in compliance with standard measures for Ebola infection control and prevention, that they be buried at the Kitatumba Cemetery in downtown Butembo.
“I did not expect a disagreement with the dignified and secure burial team to have such impact on the hospital. That morning I heard a strange noise outside, but I didn’t pay attention to it. It was later that the community relay came to alert me that the hospital was under attack and I fought until I was able to escape,” said a nurse at the health centre.
Following the attack, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Infection Prevention and Control team has been doing all they can to reconcile with the community and make up for the lost time. They are working with officials of the Ministry of Public Health and other partners to hold dialogues with community members to regain their support and commitment for response activities to continue.
“We must keep in mind that Ebola is first and foremost a community problem and must be resolved with the community,” said Dr Polydore Ngoma Phoba, Leader of Africa CDC Infection Prevention and Control Team in Butembo.
With a strong determination, they are hopeful that more dialogues and discussions will provide the favorable environment needed to continue response activities and end the epidemic in the DRC as soon as possible.
“I hope we succeed in cutting transmission and curbing this epidemic as quickly as possible,” said Dr Phoba.