On 4 December 2019, Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) took the painful decision to temporarily withdraw our staff from the Biakato region of Ituri province, Democratic Republic of Congo. After months of working extremely closely with the community to address the health needs in the region, MSF is saddened to have made this decision.
In the early morning of 3 December, a group of people armed with sticks and machetes entered Biakato health centre. They didn’t reach the Ebola Treatment Centre which is located within the health centre, and no one was injured.
During the same night, a group of people also armed with sticks and machetes attempted to enter the MSF compound in Biakato Mines. Rocks were thrown at the compound for a brief period, but no one was injured.
These events follow the deadly attack against Ebola responders in Biakato during the night of 27/28 November. In the days after the attack, MSF remained in the area to provide medical care in local health centres, as well as in the Biakato Mines Ebola Treatment Centre, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. As many Ebola responders and organisations had evacuated the area, and access to healthcare was extremely limited for people, the situation became challenging over a couple of days.
MSF has been providing healthcare in the Biakato region since 2016. During the current Ebola outbreak, we have worked closely with the Biakato community to identify and help respond to the Ebola and non-Ebola health priorities in the region, including the rehabilitation of wells and the construction of a paediatric ward.
In support to the Ministry of Health, we have also provided access to free primary healthcare and inpatient paediatric care. In November 2019, still in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, MSF built and managed an Ebola Treatment Centre in Biakato.
MSF cannot work if the security of our staff and patients is not ensured. It is not clear yet who was responsible for the attempted intrusion on the compound or into the health centre, nor are the motivations behind those actions clear.
As we are not currently able to guarantee that the necessary security conditions to work have been met, MSF decided to temporarily withdraw our staff from the Biakato region. The decision to leave this community, with whom we have worked very closely over the past few years, was extremely hard to take.
Prior to departure, we ensured that the necessary materials were given to the Ministry of Health, to enable them to continue the activities we had been undertaking in collaboration, to ensure the community continues to have access to the medical care they need. MSF will re-assess the situation and we hope to be able to return to Biakato soon.