The battle against Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo is failing because ordinary people do not trust health workers and an overly militarised response is alienating patients and families, the medical charity MSF said.
MSF International President Joanne Liu, MD, said, "We have a striking contradiction: On the one hand a rapid and large outbreak response with new medical tools such as vaccines and treatments that show promising outcomes when people come early-and on the other hand, people with Ebola are dying in their communities, and do not trust the Ebola response enough to come forward".
MSF recently pulled its staff from Kawta and Butembo following violent attacks on its Ebola treatment centers (ETCs), but it has maintained its operations in other parts of North Kivu province and in neighboring Ituri province.
The use of police and armed forces to compel people to comply with health measures against Ebola is leading to further alienation of the community and is counterproductive to controlling the epidemic.
The New York Times on Thursday contributed the story of a family that dressed up a young woman who died of Ebola, painted her face with makeup, propped her up in the seat of a auto, and attempted to drive her through disease-control checkpoints so she could be buried next to her husband, a fellow Ebola victim. In just the last month, "there were more than 30 different incidents and attacks against elements of the response", she said.
Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, has suspended its Ebola activities in Katwa and Butembo in North Kivu Province. "The communities are not the enemy". She says patients must be treated as such, and not as some kind of biothreat.
The largest Ebola outbreak to date killed more than 11,000 people in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between December 2013 and April 2016.
"They see relatives sprayed with chlorine and wrapped in plastic bags, buried without ceremony".
According to the MSF, more than 40 percent of new cases since the beginning of the year are of people who died in the community, not in treatment centres.
"Ebola is a brutal disease, bringing fear and isolation to patients, families, and healthcare providers", Liu said.
A spokeswoman for the DRC's health ministry said there was a "misunderstanding" about the role of security forces in dealing with the outbreak, however, and rejected the MSF's claims as a "gross exaggeration of the situation".
Doctors Without Borders was insisting on security before it returned to its damaged facilities, Ilunga said.