DR Congo

D. R. Congo: World Vision equips faith leaders to combat COVID-19 in communities, as the country counts down to the official end of Ebola

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By Geoffrey Kalebbo Denye, Humanitarian Response Communications Specialist

World Vision has trained and equipped 40 influencers now deployed to their communities for infection prevention and control interventions against coronavirus and Ebola.

The CoH trainees comprising 32 faith leaders and 8 WV Staff now understand how coronavirus is spread, how to involve communities in propagating simple life-saving messages and practices like handwashing, not touching one’s face, and social distancing.

“We cannot wait for the disease to get in the communities, in a country counting down to the official end of Ebola, before we can alert them to a new danger and what they can do to avoid it. This team of 40 are now certified to apply World Vision’s Channels of Hope (COH) for community engagement and risk communication to save lives and secure children’s futures,” says World Vision’s National Director to the DRC, Anne-Marie Connor.

“I have learned that coronavirus is so different from Ebola. Detecting this disease is much more complex, and to manage it, we need to act with utmost speed,” adds Pastor Jonathan Apua Mongelo of Goma.

“Without this training, I would have made some mistakes thinking I am helping my people. For example, I heard that if people take a lot of ginger, lemon and honey, they will not catch the disease. Thankfully, I now know that this is not true,” says Nénette Mwange KAHOZI counsellor at the Catholic Mothers of St. Gabriel's Parish in Lubumbashi.

“Our discussions, as Muslim and Christian leaders, helped me learn that the creator calls upon us to do something to help the sick in our communities. I want people to get involved, but they also have to keep safe,” Imam Sadjey Juma of Masjid centre ville in Goma confers.

“Noting that Ebola has been recurring in the country, World Vision is part of a consortium engaged in the johnson and johnson Ebola vaccine deployment acceptance and compliance drive to protect populations against future infections. It will be unmanageable if Ebola and corona virus were to get into any community at the same time, let alone in the DRC,” warns pastor Siyani Zimba, the trainer.

“This is a complex message that requires to be delivered by the right messengers. These faith leaders are influencers from within the communities. They speak the same language and understand the context, and that is why we choose to work with them from the very beginning,” Siyani adds.

“The fight against COVID-19 will be much more difficult if we wait for people to get sick and flood hospitals where the availability of advanced equipment like ventilators to manage severe respiratory illness or even the diagnostic tests are non-existent. While no official figure currently exists or is published, some analysis puts the figure at only 65 ventilators (3 of them paediatric) in the entire country – for a population of 80 million. We need to hurry,” Anne-Marie explains.

With the right support, INGOs can take action that will help save lives. DRC is one of the 17 priority countries in World Vision’s global coronavirus response plan, focused on prevention of transmission, supporting health responses, and caring for children made vulnerable by this crisis. The organization is working in collaboration with local authorities to fight diseases like coronavirus through integrated approaches of WaSH, food assistance, nutrition, IPC, and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support.

Already, DRC is battling a measles outbreak, which has thus far infected 320,000 people and killed 6,000 people (nearly three times the number of Ebola deaths). Several provinces are facing unprecedented levels of malnutrition. Also, the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan identified 15.6M people as in need of humanitarian assistance, 9.1M of whom are children.

World Vision’s Ebola Response Manager, Johnson Lafortune, asserts: “responding to COVID-19 will be cheaper and easier if we can quickly invest in community efforts to stop the spread of this disease in the most vulnerable countries, many of which have weak health systems. This way we can safeguard our children. Every minute counts.”