By Gabrielle Nina Mitch
THE eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is facing a mounting security challenge as it been ravaged by the Ebola virus for over a year now, especially in the Butembo and Beni areas, with the first case recorded in August 1, 2018.
Recently, another case was recorded involving a pastor of the Revival Church on July 17 in Goma city. Due to such occurrences, the World Health Organisation (WHO) elevated the epidemic to the rank of a world health emergency.
This means that since several other Ebola cases have been reported in the metropolitan city of Goma, including two cases of death, any more case to follow must be met with outmost care.
WHO also ruled that the ongoing epidemic was not only a health emergency for the DRC but for the region.
For Goma, a city with over million people and a crossroads city in the Great Lakes region, the outbreak of Ebola has changed its face.
Goma is a tourist city in the east of the DRC and capital of the North Kivu province.
The city lies on the border of Rwanda, with a port from where boats leave for South Kivu Province, specifically Bukavu and Uvira in Tanganyika Lake, which constitutes a natural border with Tanzania.
Lake Kivu is also one of the gateways to Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, via the coastal city of Uvira, where thousands of travelers use boats everyday.
Goma also has an international airport with United Nations (UN) and civil flights to Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Entebbe and Addis Ababa (the capital city of Ethiopia), which hosts the majority of passengers in transit traveling around the world.
The successive conflicts of the last twenty years in DRC have attracted more than 300 humanitarian organisations in North Kivu. A hundred of them are international. The rest depend largely on foreign funding.
Goma is also the headquarters of the UN Mission in the DRC, its densely populated neighbourhoods have significant commercial activity and there is a high concentration of expatriates employed by local humanitarian organisations.
According to a 2018 report of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), North Kivu and Ituri are densely populated provinces with a strong movement dynamics.
Both provinces have close commercial ties with each other and other neighbouring countries. Traders from North Kivu and Ituri travel to Kisangani, one of the three largest cities in DRC to the northeast. Transportation is by road for loading of goods on boats bound for Kinshasa, the capital city.
There are also several airports in both provinces with internal links.
The current evolution of the Ebola epidemic is a growing concern as it can spread to other cities in the country and worse to neighbouring countries through human mobility and trade, which is the main source of activity for the population.
ORDERS OF THE PRESIDENCY ON EBOLA RESPONSE
The arrival of Ebola in Goma has even changed the administration of the epidemic’s response. Response to Ebola is now headed by the DRC presidency through a committee of experts led by Professor Jean Jacques Muyembe – Tamfum, Director of the National Institute for Biomedical Research.
This take-over also led to the resignation of the Minister of Public Health, who was in charge of the ministry since 2016.
The minister is accused of “not having been able to make the presence of the state felt” on the ground.
By regaining control over the fight against the Ebola virus, the Presidency hopes to give a new impetus to the response and to coordinate better with WHO and other foreign organisations.
Prof. Muyembe – Tamfum, has already presented his strategic plan to fight Ebola and recommended limiting mobility of those who have come to contact with the epidemic and stressed on the need for geographical vaccination.
His plan also takes into account past failures and integrates the multi-sectoral aspect of the response.
The plan will also involve local leaders, sequencing and good information management to reassure the population and neighbouring countries, including Rwanda.
Prof. Muyembe – Tamfum assured the public there would be no further outbreak of the epidemic in Goma or in neighbouring countries.
He said the surveillance system was improving to avoid any escape of the virus.
“The response teams are on the ground. Contacts are monitored and vaccinated. We ask people to cooperate in order to control this epidemic in Goma. We also assure our neighbours that we will strengthen our surveillance system so that the virus does not cross the border to other countries,” said the veteran Ebola hunter.
MORE THAN $400 MILLION ALLOCATED TO FIGHT EBOLA
By raising Ebola to the rank of a global health emergency, WHO launched an appeal for money donations.
The World Bank released $300 million and funds were paid into special accounts of the health ministry “as and when needed,” said a source from the international funder.
About half of the money is to be used by the ministry to fund its work, pay the staff deployed to the field such as doctors, experts, paramedics and nurses.
The other half would be redistributed by the health ministry to UN agencies and partners, each working from their respective fields.
The European Union, for its part, released an additional €30 million to finance humanitarian action in the fight against Ebola.
America has already released $95 million this year. The money is managed directly by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Britain also announced a new $40 million envelope to fight Ebola.
The fight against Ebola in DRC becomes part of efforts to contain what could be a difficult security, political and societal matter considering that conflicts, high mobility of the population, a fragile health system and distrust of communities continue to hinder intervention efforts.
Since Ebola was sighted, the cumulative number of cases is 2 763, of which 2 669 were confirmed and 94 probable.
In addition, there were 1 849 people who died of Ebola in one year in DRC but over 805 people have been cured to date, as stated by official statistics.