Health workers battling Ebola in eastern Congo are facing "a climate of deepening community mistrust" almost seven months after the outbreak began, Doctors Without Borders warned Thursday.
In speaking with reporters today (March 7), MSF's International President Joanne Liu describes the current atmosphere as "toxic" due to the lack of trust the community has in public health authorities, Reuters reports.
The medical aid group has temporarily suspended its operations at two of its centers after attackers set fire to them.
"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", it added.
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.
MSF estimates that in the last three weeks, 43% of new cases in the epicentre of the outbreak had no known links to other cases - that means Ebola is not being successfully tracked, and if it is not tracked, it can not be controlled.
Ebola responders were increasingly seen as the enemy, with more than 30 attacks and incidents against the Ebola response in the past month alone, she said.
Further to the suspension of its activities in Katwa and Butembo, MSF has maintained its Ebola-related activities in the North Kivu towns of Kayna and Lubéru, as well as its management of two Ebola transit facilities in Ituri province, in the towns of Bwanasura and Bunia. "The communities are not the enemy".
There were signs the outbreak - the second worst ever - was not being brought under control.
They "feel that Ebola has been used as an excuse for political manoeuvres", she said.
"We have seen outbreaks end in areas where the communities have become engaged, from health workers to religious leaders to youth groups", Jasarevic said.
"Ebola is a brutal disease, bringing fear and isolation to patients, families, and healthcare providers", Liu said. "They see relatives buried without ceremony and see their possessions burned", she said. More than 40 percent of the deaths are right now happening within the community.
A spokeswoman for Congo's Health Ministry said there appeared to be confusion about the security forces' role.
Doctors Without Borders was insisting on security before it returned to its damaged facilities, Ilunga said.