KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Assailants attacked an Ebola treatment center in Congo's eastern town of Katwa on Sunday night, killing one caretaker and injuring another as the country grapples to control the second largest outbreak in recorded history, Congo's health ministry said Tuesday.
Doctors Without Borders confirmed the attack on its facility in Katwa, saying that the patients, four confirmed with Ebola and six suspected cases, have been transferred to other centers for continued treatment. It said all staff and patients are now secure and it deplores the death at the center.
The medical group, known in the region by their French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres, said the assailants threw stones at the facility and then burned down parts of the treatment center and destroyed wards and equipment.
The brother of a patient died while reportedly trying to escape, the group said. The ministry had identified the brother as a caretaker.
"This attack was traumatic for patients, their relatives and staff present inside the center at the time" said Emmanuel Massart, MSF's Emergency Coordinator in Katwa. "This attack has crippled our ability to respond to what is now the epicenter of the outbreak."
Massart said the reasons behind the attack are unclear.
Meinie Nicolai, MSF's General Director currently visiting North Kivu said "What we know is that the actors of the Ebola response - MSF included - have failed to gain the trust of a significant part of the population. All those involved in this response must change their approach and truly engage with the grievances and fears of the communities."
Congo Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga called the attack unacceptable. Earlier he said a caretaker had died and another was hospitalized.
"We salute the courage of the Congolese health workers who stayed with the ill all night until they were evacuated despite the risks."
The Katwa health zone has become Congo's new epicenter for Ebola, he said, highlighting that the growth rate of new cases of Ebola has not gone down in recent weeks as the security situation also remains tenuous. Katwa has so far been the most affected, he said, with 239 cases of Ebola, of which 182 people have died.
With 872 cases, including 807 of them confirmed, and 483 confirmed deaths, this has become the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history, behind the West Africa outbreak that killed more than 11,000 in 2014-2016.
Congo's east has multiple armed groups all vying for control of the mineral-rich land. The insecurity and dense population have been major challenges in fighting against Congo's tenth outbreak.
Resistance in Katwa to health workers has also slowed the fight there. It is not clear who attacked the center or why, but insecurity and community resistance are likely at the root of the attack.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said the situation in Congo is unprecedented.
"There has never been an Ebola outbreak in these conditions, with such a highly mobile population and with many gaps in the health system," he said. "The security context is another major concern. I am deeply saddened by reports that a health facility run by Medecins Sans Frontieres in Katwa was attacked on Sunday night."
Ghebreyesus will travel to the region next week, where more than 80,000 people have been vaccinated and over 400 have received treatment, according to WHO.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.