Ebola outbreak spreads in DR Congo

Published: 29 Jan 2019

Congo-Kinshasa (MNN) – The second wave of an Ebola outbreak is growing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Story by Beth Stolicker, Mission Network News (MNN). Photos Dave Petersen and Jon Cadd.

The outbreak originally began in August 2018 in North Kivu. There have been at least 680 cases and over 400 deaths since then. Ebola cases continue to increase. There is a concern the disease could reach the city of Goma.

'MAF pilots in DR Congo have conducted 19 flights to deliver 21,026 pounds of cargo, 3,692 pounds of Ebola vaccines, transported 82 health workers in efforts to end the growing Ebola outbreak.'

‘It’s been going pretty quick and pretty fast, and it’s now the second biggest outbreak…that we know of in history at this point,’ Mission Aviation Fellowship’s pilot David Petersen says.

Other factors have contributed to the challenges of diminishing this outbreak. This includes the fact there is a lot of movement in this area of DR Congo. Plus, some areas are rebel-controlled, creating challenges for health workers trying to travel to specific areas within a timely manner.

Misunderstanding Ebola

A general lack of knowledge has also been problematic. Petersen says a lot of people in DR Congo don’t understand Ebola or how it is transmitted. This lack of understanding can cause fear. Then there is also the mistrust of non-government organizations, like the health workers who are trying to contain and stop the disease.

‘One time, there [were] rumours going around that the NGOs, the health workers were actually essentially massacring bodies or removing parts from bodies before burial and so then the population would go and dig up the infected corpse, which then can infect a lot more people, so there’s a lot of things that can cause problems there,’ Petersen says.

‘And then one of the last issues is the isolation of the different areas, the bad roads, which causes difficulties for transporting health workers and all the other supplies that they need to isolate and treat, which is more where MAF has been partnering.’

MAF in DR Congo

MAF has been in DR Congo since the early 1960s, except for a handful of evacuations. One of the challenges of eastern DR Congo is it is mountainous in many areas and the world’s second largest rainforest spans across the region.

‘It’s quite difficult to get around, and so then you have the issues with the cargo that needs to be brought in for the health workers. Things like sanitation supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), the personnel themselves, and then, of course, the Ebola vaccines, which you may have seen in other news, there [is] a shortage of Ebola vaccines…We started partnering recently to be the carrier of vaccines into the different areas,’ Petersen says.

'It’s now the second biggest outbreak…that we know of in history at this point.’ MAF Pilot David Petersen

MAF has been partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO) to aid in delivering vital equipment. Cargo can include tents, oxygen bottles, sanitation supplies, compressors, portable latrines, motorcycle parts for health workers, and occasionally health workers themselves.

Because MAF is mainly delivering cargo, there is little risk of spreading the virus through MAF flights.

‘Since [Ebola is] transferred directly by bodily fluids and contact with an infected person, and they have to be presenting symptoms to infect you, the risk is not as high as some people think. But, we still have stringent regulations that we follow. We have an Ebola pathogen manual that we use, and we classify the different airports that we go to,’ Petersen explains.

MAF pilots follow different procedures for different classifications to ensure safety and prevent infection or damage. As of January 18, MAF pilots in DR Congo have conducted 19 flights to deliver 21,026 pounds of cargo, 3,692 pounds of Ebola vaccines, transported 82 health workers in efforts to end the growing Ebola outbreak.

Republished with permission from Mission Network News (MNN). Source: https://www.mnnonline.org/news/ebola-outbreak-spreads-in-dr-congo/

Ebola image courtesy of NIAID via Flickr.