A double crisis in DRC: New case of Ebola reported as COVID-19 explodes

14 Apr 2020 by Gabriel Thomas, News Media Advisor
A double crisis in DRC: New case of Ebola reported as COVID-19 explodes

PHOTOGRAPH: Feb 2019, DRC Ministry of Health staff check travelers for fever.

KINSHASA, DRC - A new case of Ebola has been confirmed in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo two days before the country was to officially be declared free of the disease, and exactly one month since the first COVID-19 case was reported in the nation. 

There’s no break for health and community workers who now have to battle two of the World’s most feared health crises within the same borders.  

So far, COVID-19 has infected 215 people in the DRC, mostly in the crowded capital Kinshasa, home to 12 million people. Some cases have also been reported in conflict affected Eastern parts of the country. 

“What we feared most is happening. DRC which is home to 80 million people must now tackle these two diseases at the same time” says World Vision DRC National Director, Anne-Marie Connor.

“This announcement by the technical secretariat of the Ministry of Health dashes the hope that communities had to celebrate the end of one killer disease even as they faced the new challenge of coronavirus,” Connor adds. 

World Vision warns that the combined peril of Ebola and COVID-19 could have significant and lasting effects on children, survivors and communities that were still reeling from a 20-month Ebola response. The aid agency also highlights that children who are separated, isolated, orphaned, and fearful because of Ebola now face a double threat.

“During Ebola, 30 per cent of cases in the DRC were children, and thousands of children were orphaned. We are concerned with what Ebola and COVID-19 combined infections will mean, especially for already fragile families. There is very, very limited availability of advanced equipment like ventilators in the country and only half of the health facilities in the DRC even have access to water,” said World Vision International’s Head of Health and Nutrition, Tom Davis.

World Vision is working with its network of over 800 influential community leaders (105 have so far been re-oriented to the fight against COVID-19) to reduce pressure on health resources by sharing hygiene and social distancing messages. Together with more than 4,400 Community Health Workers (CHWs) who played a significant role in lowering Ebola cases, they are raising awareness and protection messaging. These ‘Channels of Hope’ leaders and CHWs are educating communities about how coronavirus and Ebola are spread and encouraging them to follow simple life-saving practices like handwashing.

“With no way to quickly ramp up critical care staff, equipment and supplies nationwide in many of these countries with fragile health systems, we need to focus on those things that we know can have a major impact on COVID-19’s and Ebola spread: social distancing, respiratory and hand hygiene, and equipping CHWs to help families manage the vast majority of cases that can be safely managed at home, and thereby lowering the burden on health facilities. The good thing is that these public health measures and behaviour change are areas where World Vision’s field staff and volunteers often excel. We are also doing things to assure that the most vulnerable children will continue to have services in place to preserve their protection, education, feeding and overall wellbeing”, Davis adds.

World Vision says that despite the face of fear, there is hope that the experience of Ebola offers important lessons for COVID-19. 

“While there is renewed concern, the 40-day lull without a reported case of Ebola, offers hope that these public health crises can be stopped if the world thoughtfully partners with affected communities,” says World Vision DRC National Director Anne-Marie Connor.

Gabriel Thomas, News Media Advisor, World Vision New Zealand
Gabriel.Thomas@worldvision.org.nz  |  ‚Äč+64 21 360 098