The current Ebola eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now the second largest in history, according to the…
The current Ebola eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now the second largest in history, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with at least 426 confirmed cases in the country.
The outbreak, declared in August 1, has led to at least 198 confirmed deaths, said the DR Congo Ministry of Health.
It is the tenth era in Congo since Ebola first was discovered there in 1976 and centers around the eastern city of Beni, in northern Kivu, a region that has been blighted by armed conflict, which has prevented efforts to combat the outbreak.
Al Jazeera spoke with Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of WHO Africa, on the spread of the outbreak, lessons from earlier outbreaks and what the future is facing for health issues in Africa.
Al Jazeera: DRC Health Minister called the “worst outbreak” in the country’s history. How difficult is it for the WHO to deal with it?
Matshidiso Moeti : This happens in a zone where there is a long-standing conflict. There is also distrust and acceptance from the population has been a particular problem. Even when we are there, there have been attacks on societies, kidnappings, threats to our staff and even attacks.
We have been keen to work at community level with different groups in society and hope to spread the word to everyone, including the armed groups. We want to tell them that when there is an Ebola eruption, and the virus is circulating, we are all in danger, including them.
This is a combination of security problems and suspicion of the population, and even reluctance to cooperate sometimes. There are areas under the radar where infection control is very bad, they are some of the most important areas where transmission takes place and that has made the situation difficult and complicated.
This is an ongoing work.
Al Jazeera: What kind of resistance did you meet from societies?
Moeti : One of the biggest challenges has been the original resistance from the societies. Some of them question why we are here now. They ask where we were when they were killed by these armed groups and how we noticed when Ebola hit them.
One thing we work on is safe and worthy funerals. It is one of the biggest areas of contamination and infection. In African societies we have traditions in terms of birth, marriage and death.
Al Jazeera: How difficult is it to let families safely share with their loving bodies?
Moeti : It’s hard. People do not think it’s easy to accept it. There has been resistance. But we have managed to make it effective. One of the things is to know who to work with, who has society’s trust and relationship with them ̵
1; different leaders, religious leaders, women’s groups, etc.
Investing in a dialogue with society has also been important not only for monitoring but also to build trust in convincing people to appreciate the risk and change their practices – how to deal with the dear ones who have died and essentially to surrender them for a safe burial.
Al Jazeera: How is this persuasion performed?
Moeti : There are, for example, a large number of small health clinics run by a number of health workers. This is a mixture of traditional drugs and modern medicine but is not properly regulated. This has been used and trusted by the population, but this is where much transfer has happened.
We are now working with them to prevent and control infections. We provide them with the material, knowledge and training needed, so that they, if they visit, understand and understand what they need to do to prevent transmission.
Al Jazeera: Malaria killed approximately 435,000 people last year, 93 percent of them in Africa. Last year, you told Al Jazeera, “Progress was made but it was not enough”. Why is progress still slow?
Moeti : The situation is still very similar. Twelve months is not much time to do a program around …
Al Jazeera: … but we’re talking about more than 400,000 deaths …
Moeti ]: You need to calibrate and what extra capacity you have, deal with the bottlenecks you encounter. You understand that it’s one thing to distribute bedlinen, but another to change what people do in their homes – make sure they actually use it and adopt that practice consistently.
We have identified 10 African countries and India as the heaviest burden of countries [as part of a new initiative] and plan to improve the situation.