DR Congo

COVID-19 in Democratic Republic of Congo: lessons learned with Ebola outbreaks help to empower communities

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Information is power in the fight against the coronavirus. One of the key ways in which Caritas helps communities protect themselves against COVID-19 in Democratic Republic of Congo is by ensuring they are armed with the right information to help save lives.

Caritas and the Catholic Church already have deep-rooted experience in raising awareness to prevent the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and this has given them good grounding to face the global pandemic. The highly contagious disease had an outbreak last year and has recently re-emerged in the north east of the country.

Emmanuelle Bofoe, Ebola focal point for Caritas Congo, says,

“Our experience with Ebola has helped a lot because the actions to stop the spread of COVID-19 are similar to the ones to stop Ebola, but with a greater focus on mask wearing, confinement and social distancing.”

By June 25th there were 6,213 recorded cases of COVID-19 in DRC – the majority of which in the capital Kinshasa, a mega city with 15 million inhabitants. At the time of writing there had been 142 deaths.

One of the challenges that Caritas Congo is facing with the pandemic spreading in DRC is to engage with people who have misconceptions about the coronavirus and who even deny its existence.

Part of the Caritas COVID-19 response in DRC is to combat misinformation and ensure over 3 million people in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, have the correct information to protect against COVID-19.

Caritas is producing adverts for radio and television, sending informative SMSs to people’s mobile phones and connecting up with people on social media. They’re putting posters in parishes and at strategic points in the city, as well as distributing leaflets.

Caritas is sending staff and volunteers into communities with megaphones so they can get across prevention messages directly to anyone and everyone who will listen. They carry sanitising hand gel, masks and gloves to distribute to people.

As the lives of the elderly are at greater risk from COVID-19, Caritas is ensuring that prevention messages reach care homes and that the elderly have the means to prevent the spread of the virus. Caritas is also providing daily food rations worth 2100 calories to some elderly to boost their immune systems and help them stay healthy.

These initiatives are all part of a wider response to COVID-19, not just in Kinshasa, but also in other parts of the vast country. The response builds on what communities have and what they’ve learnt from Ebola.

“In the cities in the east, such as Goma, Butembo, Bunia, Beni, Bukavu, there were already handwashing stations, prevention posters etc. which will continue to be useful in the current pandemic while still being useful against Ebola, which can re-emerge at any time,” says Emmanuel Bofoe.

Caritas, along with the Bureau Diocésain des Œuvres Médicales de Kinshasa (BDOM), has also donated a respirator, oxygen, infra-red thermometers and other equipment to the Centre Hospitalier Kikimi in Kinshasa this week.

Click here if you would like to help empower communities in Congo with awareness to help them fight COVID-19.