On 20 December 2018, the long-awaited presidential elections that were originally supposed to take place on 22 December were delayed until 30 December. This decision caused tensions throughout the country, especially in areas such as Beni and Butembo in eastern North Kivu Province (Democratic Republic of Congo), which are considered opposition strongholds. On Wednesday 26 December, the national electoral commission (CENI) announced that elections will be further postponed in three areas including Beni and Butembo because of the ongoing Ebola outbreak and risks of attacks.
This announcement resulted in violent protests, especially in Beni where the MSF transit centre was partly vandalized on 27 December, leading to the temporary evacuation of the MSF teams for a few hours. Initial MoH reports talking about patients who fled during the troubles were amplified by some media who reported that dozens of suspected Ebola cases would have fled. In Butembo the situation has been quieter than in Beni. There have been demonstrations but no significant episodes of violence have occurred.
Elections took place on 30 December with no major security incidents. Since Beni and Butembo had been excluded from the electoral process, youth groups organized their own independent vote in the streets of Beni. The CENI has declared that those independent votes will not be taken into consideration. Preliminary results of the elections were supposed to be announced on January 6. However, the announcement has been postponed by a week for the time being. Following the elections day, internet access and the SMS network have been shut down in DRC. The EU ambassador was invited to leave the country, while radio station RFI’s broadcast was cut off. It is possible that the announcement of the results will cause protests around the country.
On what concerns the Ebola outbreak itself, the number of new cases continues to grow. As of 7 January, there have been 577 confirmed cases, 329 of which have died.
In North Kivu, MSF is responding to the Ebola outbreak in Beni (with a transit centre), Butembo (with an Ebola treatment centre) and Katwa (eastern part of Butembo city, where MSF has just opened a second Ebola treatment centre). MSF is also providing outreach and community awareness-raising activities, as well as support to health centres on infection prevention and control.
BENI transit centre
On 27 December, the transit centre managed by MSF in Beni was targeted by protesters, who threw stones, broke into the centre and looted small equipment. These acts of violence led to a temporary evacuation of the MSF team. A medical team quickly returned to care for the patients present in the transit centre. Of the 28 patients that were in the transit centre at the time of the demonstrations, 9 left spontaneously during the troubles, 18 were referred to Beni’s general hospital and 1 was discharged. As no patients remained in the transit centre, the medical team remained on standby at the project’s base, waiting for the situation to quiet down. On 31 December activities resumed with reduced staff.
Beni transit centre patient numbers as of 07/01/2019:
- 9 new admissions
- 17 discharged patients (17 tested negative for Ebola)
- 33 patients in total in the transit centre
BUTEMBO Ebola treatment centre
Activities at the ETC are proceeding as normal but with reduced teams. On 27 December the decision was taken to temporarily evacuate all non-essential staff because of the tense climate created by the elections and the coming proclamation of results.
Butembo ETC patient numbers as of 07/01/2019:
- 13 new admissions
- 22 discharged patients (1 cured, 2 deceased, 19 tested negative for Ebola)
- 44 patients in total in the ETC
KATWA Ebola treatment centre (in construction)
The new ETC in Katwa (eastern part of Butembo city) was inaugurated on 3 January, with the opening of 16 beds. On 4 January, the first 3 patients were admitted. The centre has a modular design that allows construction to go on while being operational. Another 16 beds are planned to be available soon.
Katwa ETC patient numbers as of 07/01/2019:
- 3 new admissions
- 6 discharged patients (6 tested negative for Ebola)
- 8 patients in total in the ETC
Outreach, community awareness-raising and infection prevention and control
MSF was running these activities in communities and health centres in and around Beni and Butembo. Due to the current insecurity, they have been temporarily suspended, with the exception of occasional, ad-hoc decontamination of health centres. MSF teams are ready to resume the bulk of these activities as soon as the situation allows.
Read more about the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo here