Butembo, Mar 9 (AFP) The head of the World Health Organization denounced a deadly attack Saturday on an Ebola treatment centre in eastern DR Congo, during a visit to the site hours after the raid.
Gunmen attacked the centre at Butembo, North Kivu province, earlier Saturday, killing a policeman and wounding a health worker, local officials said, the latest in a series of attacks.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking after his four-hour visit to the Butembo clinic, told reporters that the violence in the region was undermining the early progress they had made in fighting the outbreak.
In a statement issued later, he said: "These are not attacks by the community, they are attacks on the community."
While it broke his heart to hear of the latest casualties, "...we have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world", he added.
The Butembo facility only reopened last Saturday after an attack by gunmen the previous Wednesday forced its closure.
"Shooting started at about six in the morning (0400 GMT) and resumed 30 minutes later with resistance from the army and the police," Butembo mayor Sylvain Kanyamanda Mbusa told AFP of the latest attack. The health worker who was shot was being treated in hospital.
"The army and the police caught one of the attackers," he said, saying he was a member of the Mai-Mai rebel group.
This was the third attack on the centre, the mayor added, branding the attackers as "terrorists" who wanted to "kill the sick".
On Thursday, medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that efforts to curb the DR Congo's worst Ebola outbreak were stumbling, blaming security forces and their "toxic" relations with local communities.
More than 40 per cent of deaths had occurred in communities rather than in Ebola treatment centres, MSF pointed out.
Repairs were set to begin on another North Kivu treatment centre, in Katwa, that was set ablaze on the night of February 24.
"The people of Katwa and Butembo, as in the other communities affected by Ebola, want and deserve a place to receive care and a chance of survival," said Ghebreyesus in his statement.
"They do not deserve to suffer in their homes while infecting their loved ones, they do not deserve to suffer in inadequately resourced health centres while infecting health workers."
Ghebreyesus was completing a three-day visit to the country along with other senior WHO staff and US officials.
During his visit he met President Felix Tshisekedi, other agencies working in the field and local organisations tackling the outbreak.
Both the Katwa and Butembo centres had been jointly run by the health ministry and MSF, but after the first attacks, the aid agency announced it was suspending its activities in both facilities.
The Butembo centre is now run by the health ministry in collaboration with the WHO and the UN children's agency Unicef.
The deadly viral disease broke out in North Kivu last August and spread to neighbouring Ituri province.
It has claimed 561 lives out of 894 recorded cases, according to the latest ministry figures.
Efforts to contain the epidemic, the 10th in the country's history, have been hampered by poor security in the highly unstable region, where numerous militia groups are active. (AFP)
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