The World Health Organization on Thursday condemned a pair of attacks on Ebola treatment centers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying marauders who torched the facilities are holding back the response to an outbreak that’s killed over 500 people.
“Such attacks are deplorable for their immediate impact on lives and for the risk of spreading the disease further,” the agency, a public health armed of the United Nations, said in a statement. “They are profoundly disrespectful of the dedicated work of local, regional and international responders.”
Armed men set fire to a treatment center in Butembo late Wednesday, causing many out of the 38 patients with suspected cases to flee, according to the DRC health ministry.
Eight out of a dozen patients with confirmed cases remained in their rooms, though a hunt is underway for the four who ran away.
Caregivers and all patients who have been tracked down are reported to be safe and unharmed. They are being transferred to another center.
The arson comes three days after a similar attack by unidentified assailants in Katwa, who set fire to a center run by Médecins Sans Frontières. The brother of a patient died while fleeing, though the cause of death is unclear.
WHO said the attacks will only prolong the outbreak within the volatile North Kivu region.
Since Aug. 1, the outbreak has resulted in 879 cases and 553 deaths, making it the worst in recorded history after the West African outbreak that killed more than 11,000 earlier this decade.
Ebola is a serious often-fatal disease that is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads from human to human through the bodily fluids of people who exhibit symptoms.
Though responders have an experimental vaccine and new trial drugs to combat the disease, they are contending with armed militias who’ve fought government forces for years in the affected parts of northeast DRC.
The sectarian unrest, plus distrust of government forces and outsiders, has manifested itself in attacks like the pair that struck Ebola centers this past week.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
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