A leading Catholic aid agency is calling on the international community to make “a massive effort” in preventing the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The World Health Organization declared the Ebola crisis in the DRC a global health emergency on 17 July.
CAFOD director Christine Allen, who recently visited the DRC, said: “Halting the spread of this appalling disease requires a massive effort, on the part of the international community as well as the Congolese people and health authorities.”
“We must make sure that local aid agencies receive the funding needed to respond in their communities, where they are dispelling myths and making sure people understand how the Ebola virus is transmitted, how it is treated and how to prevent infection,” she added.
The Ebola virus is a rare but severe, often fatal, illness in humans. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
Since the outbreak in August 2018, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, over 2500 cases of the disease have been reported, and at least 1600 people have died. The 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa claimed the lives of 11,000 people.
The disease has reached the city of Goma in the eastern part of the country near the Rwandan border, where a pastor died from the disease last week.
Goma has a population of 2 million people, and is situated near the Rwandan border. The World Health Organisation says the risk of people in neighbouring countries contracting the disease is “very high”.
CAFOD country representative Bernard Kateta Balibuno said: “There are hand-washing points across Goma, and people are now being cautious in the way they greet each other. But there are still gaps across the city, as some areas do not have access to water.”
“We will continue our work in Beni and Butembo, and will look to also work with the Church in Goma, to scale up a health and hygiene promotion campaign in the city,” he added.
A vaccine, which is 99% effective and has already been given to 161,000 people, has been available throughout the latest outbreak.
CAFOD, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has pledged £80,000 to aid agencies Caritas Beni and Caritas Butembo.
The funds will be used to break down obstacles to people accessing health services, and raising awareness of approaching people who exhibit Ebola symptoms.
Christine Allen hopes the Catholic church can play an influential role in sharing key, accurate information about Ebola. Over half of the country’s 90 million people are Catholic, and the bishops are highly respected among the Congolese people.
“The Archbishop of Bukavu told me that, through the expansive local Catholic Church network, there is a lot they can do to prevent the disease from spreading. The Church is able to get prevention messages out to parishes, through schools, and via their community radio stations,” she said.
“What is going to be critical is building trust within communities. The work of local aid agencies will be essential,” she added.
Picture: A Congolese health worker administers the Ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Center in Goma, Congo, July 15, 2019 (CNS photo/Olivia Acland, Reuters)