Virtually unnoticed by much of the mainstream media, the death toll from the Ebola outbreak in the North Kivu province of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is rising exponentially. The number of Ebola deaths in DRC has jumped by over 200 per cent since the start of the year, from 370 in early January to 1,161 in mid-May, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Experience shows that control and prevention is the only realistic way to stop this extremely contagious disease, which first came to the world’s attention in 1976 in a small community near the Ebola river in what was then Zaire. The work is laborious and difficult, especially in an area like North Kivu, which is mountainous and beset by multiple conflicts, but Concern has committed to stepping up its efforts.
“All the elements are there for a humanitarian disaster, with a highly contagious disease, large numbers of displaced people, and insecurity that has resulted in attacks on health facilities making it more difficult for aid workers to access key areas,” Concern’s Regional Director Reka Sztopa said.
The Concern team are targeting health centers as a priority, providing infection prevention and control kits to 23 centers and training 1,150 health workers in their use. Often, Ebola victims arrive at health centers showing symptoms similar to other diseases, such as malaria, putting everyone they come in contact with at risk. Screening of patients at the point of arrival is key. Concern are also rehabilitating water points, showers, and toilets used by patients and staff.
Out in the communities of North Kivu, a massive awareness campaign is ongoing, with the team aiming to reach 400,000 people with Ebola awareness sessions.The affected area is home to six million people, with the epicenter of the outbreak less than 200 miles from Goma, a city of over 1.2 million people.
“Our efforts are concentrated on preventing the Ebola outbreak spreading further in North Kivu and preparing the health centers and populations in the event that it does,” according to Reka Sztopa. ” Of course if the outbreak continues to move south and reaches Goma and possibly Rwanda, we would have an international crisis on our hands.”
Since January there have been 119 attacks in the region, 42 of which were directly on health facilities, injuring or killing 85 health workers. Concern has 180 staff in DRC, where it has been operational since 1994, and is working in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.