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Congolese churches respond to Ebola outbreak

Congolese churches respond to Ebola outbreak

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

01 June 2018

* By Fredrick Nzwili

As Ebola breaks out in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), church and church agencies are moving to help counter the virus, which has left at least 25 people dead and more than 50 infected.

Priests, pastors, and health workers have established active communication with local communities, where they are emphasizing measures that can help turn back the virus.

“The church is at the forefront, guiding and educating the local people on prevention and care. We also praying for those who are already sick,” Rev. Dr Josue’ Bulambo Lembe-Lembe of the Church of Christ in Congo said in a telephone interview.  “We are emphasizing high standards of hygiene. We are warning, educating and training the people.”

The DRC government announced the outbreak on 8 May, after two cases were confirmed in Bikoro, a small rural town in Equateur Province in the northwest. On 17 May, two more cases were confirmed in Mbandaka town, a key transport hub on the Congo River with a population of more than one million.

Thousands people travel between city, the DRC capital Kinshasa and the city of Brazzaville. This has raised fears that the virus could spread through the river transport.

In Bikoro, the people are accustomed to eating meat from wild animals and that has made many vulnerable.

“We are strongly warning and advising against it,” said Lembe-Lembe.

The Roman Catholic church - which has been strongly involved in the fight against the disease since early May - has feared that some practices within the community constitute a fertile ground for the spread of the virus.

Amid reports that some families had withdrawn relatives from quarantine centres and taken them for church prayers, Bishop Fridolin Ambongo, apostolic administrator of Mbandaka-Bikoro diocese said manipulation of patients and transportation of corpses on motorcycles posed a major threat.

He has also deplored the lack of good road infrastructure in the Equateur Province. According to reports, the road separating Mbandaka and Bikoro, where communities are affected by the epidemic, is impassable.

“When will the population have leaders who commit fully to work to improve living conditions?” queried the bishop in a statement on 30 May.

Ebola haemorrhagic fever spreads through contact with an infected person’s fluids. The virus also spreads from wild animals, such as monkeys and bats, to humans. The current outbreak – the third in the country in the past five years and the seventh since the discovery of the disease in 1976 - is the Zaire Ebola Virus. It has a case fatality rate of 60-90 percent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has responded through “ring vaccination,” vaccinating the immediate contacts of the infected person, usually people in the same household and friends. The UN body has used an experimental drug to vaccinate nearly 90 percent of the people at risk, marking the first time an Ebola vaccine is being given.

WCC member churches in DRC

*Fredrick Nzwili is an independent journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.