Christian Aid has welcomed the World Health Organisation’s decision to declare the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a public health emergency of international concern.
Earlier this month, Christian Aid began to scale up its emergency operations in the DRC as the Ebola outbreak continued to escalate, spreading disease, death and further devastation amidst ongoing armed conflict.
Esperant Mulumba, Christian Aid’s acting country manager for the DRC, said: ‘We are hoping the WHO’s announcement will bring much-needed attention from the international community to the grave situation in the DRC. The deadly outbreak has exacerbated the problems of instability, armed violence, widespread displacement and food shortages within the region.
'It’s vital that we all learn from the devastating Ebola crisis of 2014 and work together to curb the spread of this virus. But it is incredibly difficult for agencies, including our own Ministry of Health, to run an effective Ebola operation due to denial about the existence of the virus and widespread mistrust in the health system and resistance to health workers and humanitarians.
‘The only way we will be able to save as many lives as possible is if we work alongside communities – and through trusted local figureheads like faith leaders and traditional leaders – to combat widespread fear and distrust about the disease and its causes. It is therefore critical that we create safe spaces through which communities can express their fears and concerns and receive appropriate guidance on behaviours that will contribute to stopping the spread of the virus. Our approach is to put affected communities at the centre of our response, thus empowering them to take actions that will prevent deaths.'
Nick Guttmann, head of humanitarian at Christian Aid, added: ‘We must be flexible in our approach to responding to the Ebola outbreak. The outbreak is taking place in a complex environment where conflict has already caused displacement. Ebola is creating more fear and forcing people to move. We need to raise awareness about how Ebola is spread and at the same time provide the life-saving support communities already displaced require.
‘We at Christian Aid are endeavouring to provide a holistic approach to dealing with the far-reaching and complex effects and focusing our efforts on those most in need. Agencies like Christian Aid and our trusted local partners are doing what we can to slow the spread of the virus, but we are desperately in need of more resources so that we can do even more to alleviate suffering for those caught up in this terrible situation.’
Christian Aid’s emergency response in the DRC also seeks to address the deep-rooted psychological, emotional and social damage Ebola has on individuals and families. Christian Aid’s partner BOAD is offering psychosocial support to 200 of the most vulnerable individuals: this includes people suspected of having the virus, Ebola survivors and healthcare workers, as well as their immediate families. These will be complemented by 40 community therapy sessions. Christian Aid’s partner Communauté Baptiste au Centre de l’Afrique (CBCA) is also responding in North Kivu, focusing on community engagement, including through faith leaders, as well as water and sanitation.
In order to help prevent transmission of the virus, Christian Aid’s partner is building a dozen latrine blocks with handwashing facilities, while also installing or repairing a dozen water points in community sites such as schools, health centres, churches and market places. It is also handing out hygiene kits (containing soap, disinfectant and chlorine tablets) to 8,000 households and at 12 community sites.
Throughout North Kivu, Christian Aid’s partners currently provide humanitarian aid to nearly 100,000 people, including those displaced by conflict, former refugees returning from neighbouring countries and vulnerable locals. Christian Aid has been working in DRC for more than 40 years. In addition to North Kivu, it also works in the provinces of South Kivu, Maniema, and Kasai.
Christian Aid has launched its Ebola Outbreak Appeal here.