By Nidhi Kapur (Independent Consultant)
The latest epidemic of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has rapidly evolved into the second largest outbreak in history. Deployed in an operational environment characterised by ongoing volatility, EVD prevention, treatment and containment efforts have faced multiple difficulties. Mistrust of EVD responders by local communities, coupled with targeted attacks on healthcare workers and facilities, have proved to be serious operational challenges. Despite aggressive efforts to stamp out the disease across three provinces, the virus has continued to spread and is responsible for the deaths of 3,303 people to date (as of 24th November 2019) with an overall fatality rate of 67%.
However, these casualty numbers hide the underlying characteristics of the EVD crisis. The reality is that the majority of fatalities consist of women (56%), and children (28%). Adult men constitute just 11% of EVD deaths. Yet fatalities alone do not fully demonstrate the differential ways in which men, women, boys and girls are exposed and experience the immediate risks and longer-term consequences of the disease. Socially prescribed cultural norms, attitudes and practices in relation to gender and age dictate how individual women, men, girls and boys are differentially impacted by the EVD crisis. It is therefore critical to better understand the socio-behavioural underpinnings to EVD aetiology. In light of the gendered dimensions of the EVD crisis, CARE International in DRC commissioned a Gender Analysis of the EVD crisis in North Kivu in order to provide information about the different needs, capacities and coping strategies of women, men, girls and boys during the EVD crisis.
The Operational Context:
EVD is endemic in the DRC. Yet while the current crisis is the tenth such outbreak in the country, it is the first recorded in the province of North Kivu.
The disease is spreading in a highly enabling environment, including:
- widespread insecurity curtailing humanitarian access;
- community refusal, reluctance and resistance;
- Insufficient consideration of how to address infectious disease outbreak in the context of armed conflict and corresponding humanitarian crisis.
The present outbreak is “as much a crisis of communication as it is a health crisis.” Rumours and resistance have often gone hand in hand.