Ebola crisis: Three doctors arrested after WHO official murdered trying to treat patients

Thursday, August 8, 2019
By Paul Martin

THREE Congolese doctors have been arrested after an attack on a hospital treating Ebola patients which saw a senior World Health Organisation (WHO) epidemiologist killed. Militiamen involved in the attacks on local treatment centres had, under interrogation, said four doctors had played a key role in planning the April raids, including the one against the Butembo hospital, Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Baptiste Kumbu, a senior military prosecutor, said.

Thu, Aug 8, 2019

Suspects Hippolyte Sangala Kisako, Aurélien Luendo Paluku and Gilbert Kasereka, face charges of “terrorism” and “criminal conspiracy” after their arrests. The prosecutor added that the three are accused of holding meetings on April 14 to plan 41-year-old Richard Mouzoko’s murder and are “among the moral authors” of his death. The fourth doctor is still at large. Lieutenant Colonel Kumbu did not provide further details about the arrests, nor what the doctors’ motive might have been. In a statement issued shortly after the arrests were made public, the Butembo branch of Congo’s national doctor’s council said it was “indignant” over the detentions, which it said were hampering vital medical services in the area.

It called for the doctors to be released on bail, and warned that medical personnel would launch a strike action within 48 hours if they were not.

The assailants of the Butembo attack had earlier been identified by the city’s deputy mayor, Patrick Kambale, as “Mai-Mai rebels demanding the departure of the international community engaged in the Ebola response”.

Ebola clinics have repeatedly been the target of violent attacks by armed rebels and suspicious locals opposed to response efforts, crippling efforts to stop the deadly virus from spreading beyond the country’s violence-ravaged east.

Some people believe that Ebola is a conspiracy cooked up by the government or foreign powers.

Many have shunned treatment, turning to traditional healers instead.

The influx of donor money to fund response efforts has also stoked tensions between rival political leaders and economic operators, leading in some cases to violence.

Despite the deployment of a highly effective vaccine, the disease reached the densely-populated city of Goma last month, prompting the WHO to declare the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”, a rarely used global alarm.

Goma, a transit hub of nearly 2 million people, lies on Congo’s frontier with Rwanda, sparking fears of cross-border contamination.

The most recent epidemic has killed more than 1,800 people since it was declared in August last year, according to Congolese health authorities.

Only the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa has been deadlier.

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