United Nations, Sep 15: In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN has stepped up community-based efforts to tackle Ebola disease, following confirmation that the virus has reached the city of Butembo, near the Ugandan border, where it has claimed three lives.
On Friday, WHO, the World Health Organisation, said that there were 137 confirmed and probable cases and 92 deaths in the latest outbreak in the east of the country. UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, announced that “everything is being done” to ensure that the disease in controlled in Butembo “at this early stage”.
Apart from widespread insecurity, one of the biggest challenges is overcoming communities’ hostility to strict health directives, that go against centuries-old cultural traditions, including burial practices.
“I remember when I was going in West Africa a few years ago during the Ebola (outbreak) how dangerous it was to go to some villages,” spokesperson Christophe Boulierac said.
In a bid to help protect communities, UNICEF has dispatched a team of 11 specialists in community communication, education and psycho-social assistance, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene. The UN agency is also working with anthropologists specializing in local cultural beliefs and practices to help overcome possible concerns.
More than 250 community leaders have also been alerted about the outbreak in Butembo, along with religious leaders and journalists. They have been told about prevention measures and an emergency number to call to treat anyone with Ebola-like symptoms.
The current Ebola outbreak in the Kivus region is DRC’s 10th since 1976. It was officially declared on 1 August. More than 1,750 people are under active surveillance, according to World Health Organisation, WHO, and more than 52 vaccination “rings” have been set up around known Ebola patients.
“Working with the communities, alerting them, informing them, and getting them to treat Ebola cases or suspected Ebola cases in the right way, is the challenge,” said WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier.
In total, more than 8,900 people have been vaccinated, including more than 2,000 children. Treating the sick and protecting people who have come into contact with them is complicated, because the vast Kivus area is home to more than 100 armed groups.
The last Ebola outbreak in DRC was some 2,000 miles away, to the west, in Equateur province, which includes the Congo River. It was declared over in July after claiming 33 lives. (UNI)