New Ebola outbreak in DRC prompts Catholic aid

Ebola epicentre with workers in Africa. Credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations CC BY NC ND 2.0.

Caritas Spain has announced that it will donate more than 23,000 euros – about $26,000 – to Caritas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to fight a new outbreak of Ebola in the country.

The Catholic relief and development agency in the African nation has activated a response plan to contain the spread of the epidemic and to raise awareness in the local population on how to prevent infection.

Just last month, the World Health Organization had declared an end to the previous Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That outbreak, which lasted just short of two years, killed more than 2,200 people.

Now, however, a new outbreak has been identified across the country, in the northwestern province of Equateur.

Ebola is a deadly virus that is primarily spread through contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pains and occasional bleeding. The disease can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases.

The Ebola outbreak strains a health care system already under pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 8,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in the country, with 200 deaths, although health officials suggest these numbers are likely low due to limited testing abilities.

According to Caritas, the mortality rate for coronavirus is 2.5%, but for Ebola is more than 50%.

In addition, the country also currently experiencing its worst measles epidemic in history, very high rates of malnutrition, and the escalation of violence in some regions.

Caritas Spain had been soliciting private donations for the last two years to fight the previous Ebola epidemic.

The Spanish charity plans to allocate more than 23,000 euros to support the efforts of Caritas DRC, mainly in Equateur, with an awareness and prevention program to benefit an estimated 5,000 people.

Training will focus on about 1,000 community leaders, including heads of religious denominations, pastoral workers, heads of business and transportation associations, and youth leaders.

Caritas said its target information campaigns will also include a special focus for women, who are often more exposed to infection, as they generally buy and prepare food, care for the sick, and make preparations for funerals.

Other target groups include truck drivers, merchants, taxi drivers, and other occupations in which individuals interact with large numbers of people each day.

This new Ebola epidemic marks the 11th in the country’s history since the disease first appeared in 1976.

An outbreak in 2014-2016 in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people and spread briefly to Spain, the US, and the UK.

Efforts to contain the disease during the previous two-year epidemic were hampered by misinformation and distrust on the part of local communities, who in some cases retaliated against health teams by attacking them. Several hundred attacks on medical centers and staff were reported in 2019, according to the BBC. The attacks limited many of the health services that non-governmental organizations were able to provide.