Louis Massing (48) is general practitioner and has been working for Johanniter International Assistance in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2016. As Head of Mission he currently organizes the activities together with his team in the areas of health and WASH. The efforts to contain Ebola in recent years have left a structure and knowledge that can respond appropriately to Covid-19. Nevertheless, he is concerned about the negative impact on the supply situation for the health system.
How do people perceive the recent situation in North Kivu after struggling for years with Ebola?
Louis Massing: The situation in North Kivu is not alarming at the moment. Until the beginning of April, the Ministry of Health had reported only a few COVID-19 cases. The province of North Kivu is not yet in complete lockdown with curfews. Nevertheless, containment measures are already being implemented by some families, offices and non-governmental organisations. Given the global situation of this pandemic, there is a general fear. However, since people experienced a similar situation during the Ebola epidemic a year ago, they are sensitive and Aware of preventive measures against the spread of such a disease.
What are the limitations and negative effects of COVID-19 for Johanniter in their ongoing projects?
The limitations vary at operational level. We are reducing some activities, such as trainings. Non-essential staff will be sent home. Skype calls, telephone and digital meetings have been given priority to avoid contact. Some international staff members live in neighbouring Rwanda, which has recently closed its borders. As a result they are currently locked out and stay at home.
What is Johanniter doing against the spread of the coronavirus?
We are active in 22 health zones, where we are already conducting sensitisation measures as part of our regular project activities. These are focussing on personal hygiene, the importance of handwashing, the prevention of acute malnutrition and Ebola. These activities will now be redirected on the prevention of COVID-19. For this purpose we provide handwashing stations at strategic points such as health centres, schools, markets or churches. Advertisements on community radios and brochures about COVID-19 accompany these measures, just as do community health Workers, who are trained about the virus in their communities and pass on their knowledge.
How is coordination with the Ministry of Health and other actors in North Kivu working?
Johanniter has been an active member of the various cluster dealing with epidemics in general and Ebola in particular for quite some time. We participate with certain preventive activities, but not at the forefront with treatment of patients. We implement prevention activities in our project area. In addition to the mentioned measures, this include capacity building among our providers and the prevention of diseases with epidemic potential. This is our strength and task.
Do you expect soon a negative impact on the supply of materials in the basic health sector due to closed borders?
It is possible that the closure of borders will have a negative impact on supply in general. Prices for basic goods have already risen, and also for products that people hope will have an effect against COVID-19, such as lemon or ginger. If a closure lasts for a long time, the central purchasing and distribution centres for medicines will not have sufficient stocks to cover all needs. Especially suppliers who source their goods from abroad would face problems. The same may occure to imported food, which may become scarce on the market.
In addition to the corona virus, DR Congo is strruggling with Ebola since years. Find out more about Johanniter`s commitment.