Congolese security forces at the scene after an attack on an Ebola response team vehicle in Beni, northeastern Congo. (Photo by Associated Press)
Three months after a visit by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and other officials to the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), health workers continue to be attacked and killed despite promises by the UN chief to bolster security for response personnel.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) urges Mr. Guterres to utilize the more than 15,000 peacekeeping troops at his disposal under the existing MONUSCO (UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC) mandate to protect the health workers who are risking their lives every day to stamp Ebola in the world’s second worst outbreak in history.
“We realize there are complexities at work in the DRC that make solutions difficult—but the situation there is too dire to not do all that’s necessary to figure it out,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “With an annual budget of over $1 billion dollars for the DRC alone, the UN must do more on the security front. Other global organizations, like GAVI contributing $178 million to build up an Ebola vaccine stockpile, are doing their part—the least the UN can do is enforce its own mandate.”
Dr. Marie-Roseline Bélizaire, field coordinator for the World Health Organization (WHO) in the DRC, described harrowing accounts of her and her team coming under attack by armed rebels on November 28. Four Ebola responders were killed that night. Unfortunately, the UN peacekeepers did not react quickly enough, taking five to six hours to reach WHO staff—far too long when it is clear that response personnel in outbreak areas are under a constant threat of attack. Just last night, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) announced the evacuation of staff following a third attack on an Ebola health center.
“Simply put, WHO and the UN are not doing their jobs when it comes to ensuring the safety of front-line health workers in the Congo,” added Weinstein. “Ebola response efforts have been suspended and personnel have been evacuated multiple times due to rampant attacks. When that happens, the virus continues to spread. The world cannot afford a runaway killer like Ebola—and until security is restored, we’ll continue to head towards that end.”
WHO has reported 390 attacks on health facilities involved in the response in 2019 alone, with 11 health workers killed and 80 injured. Since the current outbreak began on August 1 of last year, more than 3,300 people have been infected with Ebola and more than 2,200 have lost their lives.