Doctors Without Borders Suspends Operations In Ebola Epicenter In Congo : Goats and Soda After two fiery attacks on its treatment centers in Democratic Republic of the Congo, the medical charity is putting its operations there on hold — and rethinking its role.
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Why Doctors Without Borders Is Suspending Work In The Ebola Epicenter In Congo

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Why Doctors Without Borders Is Suspending Work In The Ebola Epicenter In Congo

Why Doctors Without Borders Is Suspending Work In The Ebola Epicenter In Congo

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Doctors Without Borders is suspending its work in the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The move comes after two separate attacks on its treatment centers there. The organization says, at best, it'll be weeks before staffers return. NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: The first attack was last Sunday night.

EMMANUEL MASSART: Yeah. It started around 10 o'clock.

AIZENMAN: Emmanuel Massart is the on-the-ground emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders. He says anywhere from 20 to a hundred men converged on their treatment center in a rural area called Katwa.

MASSART: And they started to throw stones inside. And then they started to put part of the center on fire, all the logistical and the water and sanitation equipments.

AIZENMAN: After about 15 minutes, they scattered. But the center was already in ruins. The next attack was Wednesday night, at a treatment center seven miles away, in a city called Butembo. This was even more violent.

MASSART: So a car was used to break the gate. There was men inside. They divide in different teams. They start to destroy things. They started shooting.

AIZENMAN: The police arrive. There was a 30-minute gun battle in which one officer was killed. And meanwhile, there are nearly 60 patients in this center suspected or confirmed to have Ebola. Many of them just picked up and ran. Massart arrived on the scene soon after, and he says everyone was traumatized.

MASSART: You are afraid for your life. You'd feel completely helpless.

AIZENMAN: Most of the patients have been located and moved to a center operated by another charity, called ALIMA. This region is the newest hot spot in Congo's seven-month outbreak - more than 200 new cases in recent weeks. The overall total in Congo is nearly 900 cases. Massart says, despite that, Doctors Without Borders has to put the safety of its staff first.

MASSART: The attacks were really, really violent. It is a very, very severe incident. When I send my teams, I need to be sure that they are going to come back alive.

AIZENMAN: Mistrust is high in this part of Congo. He notes that it's an isolated, impoverished area with a history of armed conflict that's made people wary of outsiders. And they've never seen Ebola before. So it's not surprising that they're going to be suspicious when a bunch of foreigners show up and start insisting that as soon as your child or mother has a fever, you have to send them off to strangers in these plastic suits. The group won't resume operations until it can be sure that it has the full support of the community.

MASSART: We have not been communicating enough with the population.

AIZENMAN: Normally, Doctors Without Borders specializes in caring for patients. But they're thinking, in this case, maybe they need to shift gears and focus on engaging the community. Because maybe, says Massart, that's where we can have the biggest impact. Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.

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