The urgency before us: A call for collaborative effort towards DR Congo

Charline Kavugho shared the news that she and her two-year-old son, Jonathan, had been declared free of the Ebola virus, 17 days after her husband Gerome Kanyitondi died of an Ebola infection. Kanyitondi had been a pastor for the Community of Baptist Churches in Central Africa (CBCA).

Kavugho was sharing her testimony with the Church of Christ of Congo’s Ministry of Refugees and Emergencies (ECC MERU), a partner organization of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). She had been willing to undergo an infection prevention and control process, at a time when many in the community are distrustful of health care personnel.

Almost a year after the initial cases of Ebola were reported in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), the World Health Organization (WHO) and others in the international community have yet to contain its spread. With cases already reported on the borders of South Sudan and Uganda, Ebola is causing concern among the people of DR Congo and the entire region. The WHO has declared it a public health emergency.

This outbreak of the virus has led to more than 1,800 deaths, with a fatality rate over 60%. As of August 12, there have been 2,816 cases, 700 of them children. It is the second largest Ebola outbreak, after the one in West Africa in 2014–2016 that led to more than 11,000 deaths.

Insecurity and an already-existing humanitarian crisis are exacerbating efforts to overcome the Ebola virus. As of December 2018, 12.8 million people in DR Congo were in dire need of humanitarian assistance and 4.5 million people are displaced from their homes. DR Congo also faces other, less-visible, health concerns such as malaria and measles that have killed thousands, including children.

Misconceptions and polarized messaging within communities have created a high degree of suspicion and tension between many communities and Ebola health care workers. In addition, much greater levels of funding from the international community are needed to avert further catastrophic effects.

So far, the U.S. government’s total funding for response to the Ebola crisis is $136 million. Additional funding for DR Congo is being restricted due to their poor record on human trafficking. Legislation has been introduced that would allow this much-needed humanitarian assistance to be exempted from these restrictions. (Encourage your members of Congress to support it.)

Robust funding from other donor countries would also help enable a holistic intervention to the crisis. This will need to include trust-building and community engagement, culturally-sensitive infection prevention and control activities, and food assistance for communities affected by Ebola.

MCC supports the broader work of ECC MERU, as it builds the capacity of local groups to respond to violence through peace education. Currently, ECC MERU is addressing the Ebola crisis through counselling activities in the cities of Butembo and Beni, as well as an awareness campaign.

We must sustain our works of love for our brothers and sisters in DR Congo. Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.”