Since the Ebola outbreak in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Johanniter has been fighting against the spread of the deadly virus. The focus is on the province of North Kivu, where basic health care has been supported for many years. The armed conflict makes the preventive measures more difficult.
For years, the mountainous region in the east of DR Congo has been the scene of armed clashes between rebel groups, militias and state forces that have forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Poor conditions to combat a virus like Ebola, which has infected more than 3,300 people and killed more than 2,200 since the outbreak.
The permanent violence against the population forces them to flee and the virus is carried on. The people live in the forest, in tents or with other families without access to food and clean water. As a result, diseases such as measles and cholera are on the rise again," says Katja Gürten, Johanniter project coordinator for DR Congo.
More than 5000 people - most of them children - died due of a measles outbreak last year.
Trust thanks to many years of work
In order to fight the virus, Johanniter focuses on education. Employees train helpers which have been selected by the community beforehand. This is an advantage, because they enjoy great trust and their word often counts more than that of strangers. Mistrust sits too deep in a region marked by violence.
The Johanniter have gained trust with their presence in the country since 1995. In recent years, several health stations have been built or rehabilitated, equipped with medicines and medical equipment, and staff have received professional and financial support. The additional Ebola education has contributed to the fact that no Ebola cases have yet occurred in the Masisi and Mweso health zones where Johanniter works.
Cecilia Saleh is the head of the Johanniter office in North Kivu. She reports on the successes and difficulties in the fight against Ebola.
The latest Ebola outbreak has cost more than 2,200 lives since 2018. What are Johanniter doing for prevention?
With 356 health workers from local communities, we have educated more than 30,000 people or, for example, we have set up 238 hand washing stations at strategically favourable locations and places frequented by the public such as churches, schools and markets. The alarm system in the Johanniter-supported health facilities works well. Four suspicious cases were immediately reported to the responsible hospitals. Fortunately, the results were negative.
Does Ebola have an impact on the other health services, many of which have been provided for years?
We must, of course, keep an eye on the potential threat to our employees. Because there is always a risk of infection, but in order to contain it, we provide protective measures for everyday work. Preventive measures mean more work for the regular project team. And sometimes our activities have to be postponed or cancelled to protect everyone.
The ongoing armed conflict in the region has made the population of North Kivu suspicious. How respected and appreciated are the Johanniter on the ground?
Since we did not come to the region only after Ebola, but have been active there for years, the Johanniter are appreciated and accepted in our area of operation. The fact that we implement our projects transparently and reach people even in extremely remote regions builds trust and acceptance.
Sexual violence is used as a weapon especially in conflict regions. We support victims in the DR Congo. Learn more about it here.