The largest outbreak of Ebola to date in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has already claimed the lives of over 500 people. Germany is helping to fight the disease by providing humanitarian aid on the ground.
The Ebola virus broke out in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in northeastern Congo at the beginning of August 2018. With over 800 confirmed cases at present and over 500 deaths as a result of Ebola, the outbreak is considered to be the largest to date in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The affected region has been wracked by violence and conflict for decades. The number of internally displaced persons in the region is estimated to be over one million, of whom the majority are women and children.
Employees of humanitarian aid organisations and the Congolese Government are working together in a bid to contain the outbreak. Priorities include treating infected people, vaccinating those directly at risk and raising awareness about risks as well as potentially life-saving hygiene measures. However, access on the part of aid workers to those affected is severely restricted due to persistent armed conflicts. Aid measures have had to be suspended time and again because of ongoing hostilities.
What is Germany doing?
The Federal Foreign Office is supporting life-saving aid, such as the distribution of food and health care, which amounted to 48.7 million euros in humanitarian aid in the Congo in 2018. The Federal Government is also the largest donor to the WHO’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE) and the second-largest donor to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
Hygiene measures in the region
One of the challenges in preventing dangerous diseases such as Ebola is the poor supply of clean drinking water and sanitation. Clean water and soap alone can prevent the transmission of the virus and save lives.
Thanks to support from the Federal Foreign Office, Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe has managed to reduce the risk of infection for more than 120,000 people in the provinces affected by the disease by providing information and setting up wells, latrines and hand-washing stations. Newly established water committees in villages are attending to the maintenance and cleaning of drinking water and sanitary facilities. Furthermore, training courses on hygiene are being offered for members of the community.
Washing hands as a key lesson
“For the people, the virus is like a declaration of war against their village,” says Eugénie Angeango, who runs a school in the province of Ituri. She wants to teach her 316 pupils one key lesson above all others, namely the importance of washing their hands. “Our equipment is very poor, and we often don’t have simple things like a piece of soap.” Because of the urgent need, the school was integrated into the Ebola prevention measures overseen by Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe. ”We now have six 20 litre hand-washing canisters complete with taps stationed outside each classroom door. And there’s also ten bars of soap,” says Angeango. “So now everyone can wash their hands regularly – several times a day.”
Precautionary measures also in neighbouring countries
There are fears that Ebola could spread to neighbouring countries on account of the fragile security situation. Germany is therefore supporting Ebola prevention measures by the WHO and Malteser International in the neighbouring countries of South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Uganda. The aim is to reduce the risk of infection through raising awareness and, at the same time, to set up the necessary centres in order to identify and treat initial infections as quickly as possible.