Start Fund responds rapidly to Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid fears of a wider epidemic
by Laura-Louise Fairley
An outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has spread into the major north-western city of Mbandaka, only 50km from the border with Republic of the Congo, raising fears of a wider epidemic. The Start Fund has responded immediately, awarding £250,000 to Oxfam to undertake a rapid emergency intervention in this remote area of the DRC where they have a long-established presence and the trust of the local community. Oxfam will be responding as part of a wider government-led response to the outbreak.
Trapped in a 20-year protracted crisis, the men, women, and children of the DRC are incredibly vulnerable to disease outbreaks like Ebola. The country has vast amounts of fertile land that could potentially feed over 2 billion people, but two decades of conflict, epidemics, and rampant insecurity have left millions of people suffering from severe malnutrition and food insecurity1. Access to health care is a major challenge nationwide with significant health-care gaps.
This most recent outbreak was declared in the Equateur province of the DRC on 8 May 2018. Start Network member Oxfam raised the alert to the Start Fund on 13 May. Within 72 hours, funding was awarded to fill the funding gap in this time-critical context and respond to the most urgent, life-saving needs.
Oxfam are now responding in the impoverished forest area of Bikoro where the first cases were confirmed. They are applying their extensive experience working in both this remote area and responding to the West Africa Ebola outbreak that took the lives of around 11,310 people between 2013 and 2016. The key focus of their response will be public health outreach and community engagement on the risks of Ebola and how to prevent transmission, which has proved crucial to mitigating the spread of the disease.
‘We will also be responding in Mbandaka. We are very concerned about the situation. We have learned from the West Africa Ebola crisis that early engagement and dialogue with communities is paramount in curbing the outbreak. Once Ebola spreads to urban areas it is much more difficult to control’ Ben Phillips, Humanitarian Officer, Oxfam GB
At the time of writing, the total number of cases of Ebola in DRC has risen to 45 (14 confirmed, 10 suspected, 21 probable), including 25 deaths. All the deaths so far have occurred in Bikoro, an impoverished forest area around 150km from Mbandaka.
Oxfam will also distribute hygiene items to affected and at-risk communities and identify gaps in the current public health system to address protection of health staff and infection prevention and control (IPC) preparedness. The response will also prioritise the provision of clean, safe water to health facilities and treatment centres if called upon, to ensure health workers are able to give those being treated for Ebola the best possible chance of survival.
Women are incredibly marginalised and vulnerable in this area and are also responsible for the health care for their families; they will receive special attention during outreach to ensure they are empowered with the right information to protect themselves and their families.
Over the past four years, the Start Fund has responded to 11 crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than any other country. We have responded to 22 disease outbreaks to date around the world, including two Ebola outbreaks in DRC and one in Sierra Leone.