The Ebola virus has claimed more than 1,700 lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo)—which is in the grips of its worst ever Ebola outbreak. Since its appearance in North Kuvi province in August 2018, the virus has spread to 22 health zones in DR Congo and was even confirmed across the border in Uganda.
“Ebola remains a public health concern and an operational challenge. Red Cross teams are on the ground—helping communities mitigate the spread of the virus. And our local volunteers are fighting misinformation about how Ebola is transmitted. One year on, our response is far from over,” says Colin Chaperon, American Red Cross’s Sr. Field Operations Officer for Africa Response Operations.
The outbreak is unfolding in a region impacted by two decades of conflict that has deprived millions of even the most basic needs and services. Violence in the region is limiting access for medical and humanitarian personnel.
Red Cross Teams Working with Communities to Mitigate Ebola’s Spread
The global Red Cross and Red Crescent network is focusing on educating communities about how the virus spreads; improving early detection and surveillance systems; supporting health facilities; conducting safe and dignified burials; helping people deal with trauma; and preparing Red Cross teams for future outbreaks.
Since poor water and sanitation infrastructure in the region is making treatment and prevention more difficult, the Red Cross is helping to improve water and sanitation systems. Teams are also supporting hospitals, health facilities, and prisons with infection prevention and control measures.
For its part, the American Red Cross has contributed $410,000 to global Red Cross efforts in fighting Ebola—including activities to prevent further spread of the disease in Uganda.
Rumors about the Ebola virus are pervasive in DR Congo, so local Red Cross volunteers go door-to-door, gathering residents’ concerns, fears, and questions about the disease. The DR Congo Red Cross volunteers correct misinformation, encourage people to protect themselves and their families against the virus, and urge residents to rapidly alert health authorities if there is a suspected Ebola infection. More than 716,000 people have been reached by the Red Cross teams through these risk communication and community engagement activities.
Neighboring countries—including Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda—are all taking steps to monitor border crossings in an effort to limit further transmission of the disease across the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s borders. To date, more than 65 million screenings have been performed.
Volunteers Risk their Lives to Conduct Safe and Dignified Burials
Ebola is a disease driven by caring for the ill and the dead. When a person dies from Ebola, his or her body is at its most contagious—putting loved ones in danger. For this reason, safe and dignified burials are critical to bringing Ebola outbreaks under control. As such, the Red Cross has trained more than 1,500 volunteers to conduct safe and dignified burials in DR Congo. These volunteers wear protective suits, gloves and goggles to protect against transmission. Of course, burying a loved one is an emotionally-charged event, so family members or religious leaders can participate and observe the burial if they are properly dressed in protective gear. Read more about how the Red Cross deals with the cultural tradition of burying the dead at: Inside the response to provide safe and dignified burials in the face of epidemics.
1 year on: the work continues
There is no quick-fix to the Ebola crisis in DR Congo. Community resistance have hindered progress in stemming the Ebola outbreak and attacks against health facilities and health workers have been a constant and tragic feature of this response. The Red Cross persists in addressing community fears, investing in a locally-led response, and putting in place preparedness measures to prevent the outbreak from spreading any further.
“Now is not the time to let our guard down. Now is the time to double down. Collectively, we have the tools to contain, control and end this outbreak,” demands Emanuele Capobianco, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Director of Health and Care.