On July 24th, The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the end of the Ebola crisis in DR Congo. The Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo (CDCC) welcomed the news after employing an “all hands on deck” approach to the May 8th announcement that the Ebola virus was present in the Equator Province.
CDCC posts and churches were directly impacted by the confirmation of two cases of ebolo in the district of Bikoro. Almost immediately, the CDCC Health Department responded with an awareness campaign in churches and schools, and then took to the airwaves to inform the population of Mbandaka. Global Ministries assisted with the purchase of emergency medicines and equipment that were distributed to clinics and hospitals in the impacted area. The efforts of CDCC, the Catholic Church, international aid agencies, the national and provincial health ministry and other civil society groups, helped contain the virus to three health zones in the Equator Province.
In the end there were 53 confirmed cases of ebola and 29 deaths. The total cost of the response is estimated at just over $60 million. Yet, the toll could have been more disastrous were it not for a quick reaction and the immediate availability of a vaccine used for the first time during the initial phase of an ebola outbreak. The fear was that the outbreak could spread to Mbandaka, a city of more than 1 million people with an airport and access to the Congo River. The worst case scenario involved the virus reaching across the border into Central African Republic or Republic of Congo. Such fear would have been reminiscent of the 2014 ebola outbreak in West Africa that claimed over 11,000 lives and cost over $3 billion.
Fortunately, no one contracted ebola in Mbandaka, a huge relief. There were several confirmed cases of ebola in Mbandaka, but from persons who traveled from Bikoro. The overwhelming communication of caution, along with hand washing stations outside every facility made a difference. CDCC churches incorporated hand washing into the communion service and replaced standard greeting of handshakes and kisses with clasped hands and a nod.
On July 20 a meeting was held at the general offices of CDCC to discuss the eventual end of the crisis and strategies of communication between the church, government agencies and aid organizations going forward. The meeting was facilitated by Celestin Englemba, Director of the CDCC Development Office. There have been nine ebola outbreaks in DR Congo since the mid-1970s, and four of those were in the Equator Province. This latest outbreak demonstrated the importance of church leadership in responding outbreaks and communications to protect public health. A few days following the meeting, WHO made its announcement that the ebola crisis was over because there had been no new cases for more than five weeks.
Most of the news about DR Congo these days is negative, so WHO’s announcement was a positive testament to the ability of local institutions to come together to resolve major challenges. Let’s pray that this spirit of solidarity and cooperation continues in the coming months through the planned December election.
Paul Turner serves with the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.