Ebola doctor killed as violence hampers response to outbreak in DRC

Sarah Newey
Police shelter behind a sign as they guard Butembo University Hospital, where a doctor was killed on Friday - AP

A World Health Organization doctor has been killed by armed militia when a hospital at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo was stormed by rebels. 

According to IMA World Health, an American aid group, Dr Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, an epidemiologist from Cameroon, was killed when armed individuals in civilian clothes burst into a conference room at Butembo University Hospital and forced everyone to the floor. 

In a statement IMA said: "[The gunmen] accused them of perpetuating false rumours about Ebola. When they departed, the intruders shot the doctor in the abdomen.

"They discharged their weapons as they went through the hospital, causing patients and staff to flee or go into hiding. Dr Mouzoko died of his wounds a short time later."

Dr Mouzoko, who had four children, had been deployed by the WHO in response to the epidemic - the second largest Ebola outbreak in history.

Just hours after the incident at Butembo University Hospital attackers armed with machetes targeted an Ebola treatment centre in the Katwa region a separate incident. 

It is not the first time the response to the outbreak has been hampered by violence - health facilities have been attacked and responders killed. 

 According to Butembo city's mayor, these attacks were motivated by an erroneous belief that foreigners had brought the disease to the DRC. 

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said the attack on "one of our own" was a "tragic reminder of the risks health workers take every day" to protect others. 

"We are outraged by this attack: health workers and health facilities must never be targets," he said in a statement.

"I and all of WHO are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague and brother Dr Mouzoko. He put himself on the frontline to save lives in the DRC," Dr Tedros added.

A DRC health ministry official and a driver were also injured in the fatal attack, according to the UN. 

Since the Ebola outbreak began in the North Kivu and Ituri regions of DRC last August, 1,340 cases have been reported - including 874 deaths.

But despite a decision not to call the epidemic a global health crisis, there are concerns that the outbreak is gathering pace. April has already seen more cases reported than any other month since August. 

Ebola, a highly contagious hemorrhagic disease, is notoriously difficult to contain. But violence has continually hampered efforts to bring the outbreak to a close. 

The current epidemic is in a highly volatile area of  DRC which has been at the centre of conflict for over two decades, with more than one hundred armed rebel groups in operation. After a treatment centre were burned to the ground, Médecins Sans Frontières were forced to suspend work in the region in March.

Community mistrust has also limited the response. A quarter of people in the cities at the epicentre believing that Ebola does not exist, while a third said the outbreak had been fabricated for financial gain. 

The attack on Butembo University Hospital has been widely condemned. Penny Mordaunt, International Development Secretary, said in a tweet that health workers were not a target. She added:

"The UK stands with WHO [and] the Ministry of Health in condemning the attacks on Butembo Hospital in the heart of the Ebola affected parts of DRC. National [and] international staff have been working round the clock to tackle this epidemic." 

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