Caritas ramps up efforts to contain Ebola outbreak in Congo

Blaise Manamba, a Caritas relief worker, is at the frontline of the battle to bring under control an outbreak of Ebola disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

At a food distribution centre in the heart of a remote Ebola-affected area, Blaise assists a high-risk group of people who have been in direct contact with a victim of the highly contagious virus, which is spread by spit and sweat and for which no cure exists.

Caritas is installing handwashing points in public places to contain Ebola outbreak.
Photo Tommy Trenchard/Caritas Archive

His job is made more difficult as he works in a politically volatile territory in the northeast of the country, an area with poor security that is controlled by local militias, where people who don’t believe Ebola exists have attacked and killed aid workers.

Despite the obstacles, he is confident the outbreak, the worst since the virus struck West Africa in 2013, will be vanquished in Congo.

“Yes, it is possible and we will win the fight (against Ebola) by educating them, by sensitising them, because at the beginning people were hiding in the forest, but now they are coming to us,”

Blaise Manamba – Caritas Congo relief worker

But even though a vaccine programme and international response were launched after the Ebola outbreak was declared 11 months ago, the virus has proved stubborn, becoming Congo’s worst ever incidence of the disease, with more than 1,700 dead.

Ebola outbreak is an international health emergency

On 17 July, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Congo’s Ebola outbreak an international health emergency, raising a rare global alarm after the disease threatened to reach a major city and neighbouring countries.

“It is time for the world to take notice,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

The announcement was made after a patient was diagnosed with the disease in provincial capital Goma, the first case in a major city, which has a population of two million and is a gateway to other countries in the region.

The WHO has warned that Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and Uganda are most at risk. Uganda has confirmed three cases of the disease and four deaths.

Photo by Miguel Samper/Caritas Archive

Community resistance to Ebola epidemic in Congo is the main obstacle

More than 160,000 people in Congo’s affected northeastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri have been vaccinated, with almost 75 million screenings. But the persistent reappearance of cases of the disease in places in the process of being declared cleansed of the epidemic has raised concerns about the effectiveness of the mechanisms of the response.

Caritas is among aid organisations ramping up efforts to contain the outbreak. “As long as the epidemic continues we must revisit our strategies to improve them or propose others in order to overcome the epidemic,” says Emmanuel Mbuna Badjonga, emergency director at Caritas Congo.

“The major obstacle remains community resistance to the epidemic: some continue to deny the existence of the disease,” he adds. “Worse, rumours suggest that the current epidemic is the work of humanitarian actors who create the disease to make money.”

Caritas, working alongside Congolese authorities and other international agencies, has helped by operating social and psychological assistance and food distribution programs.

Food distribution limits exposure to Ebola in Congo

“Thanks to a partnership with the World Food Program, we are distributing food to the families of the infected and to patients admitted to health centres,” says Fr. Valerian Katsinge, the head of Caritas Butembo-Beni.

“The distribution of food makes it possible to limit the movement of people looking for food, reducing the number of people exposed to infection”, he adds. “This distribution of food goes hand in hand with psychological counselling to help those affected by the trauma and stigma caused by being infected with Ebola or having a person affected by the virus in their family.”

Donate to Caritas Ebola response

Caritas is channelling more donations into campaigns to increase awareness about the virus and to aid sanitation by installing handwashing points in public places. Funds are also being used for food, vocational training and buildings for use by medical workers.

But more donations are urgently needed if the contagion is to be stopped.

“Caritas intends to engage more in the response,” says Emmanuel. “The tragic and helpless presence of this epidemic continues to ravage the population and spare no one.”  He adds: “Caritas would like even more to focus its response on community awareness, prevention and community engagement, and to fight against community resistance.” 

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