By Philippe Lolonga
Harper Hill Global (HHG) and The United Methodist Church have been actively working to help prevent the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since May 2018. Those living within this area have been feeling the strain that this disease has put on their communities. However, through the help of HHG, the UMC, and participation of local leaders, people in many parts of the DR Congo have played an active part in preventing the spread of Ebola.
The Ebola epidemic is raging in Kivu and Ituri, DR Congo, and it has sadly already killed 513 people in Beni and Ituri. As of February 24th, 2019, a new case was diagnosed in Beni. To combat this, the United Methodist Church in East Congo partnered with Harper Hill Global to grow awareness of and increase the practice of handwashing for the people of the city of Beni. This public safety service was done with local radio, television, WhatsApp, and sending SMS (text messaging) via UMConnect.
We thank the efforts of all partners, and the epidemic is now starting to get under control in Beni, according to the Minister of Public Health, Oly Ilunga.
Dr. Illunga says, “I think it is an epidemic that is extremely complex with many facets. It is controlled in several sites: Mangina is mastered; Chomia is mastered; Komanda is mastered; Beni now. So the homes are essentially located for the moment in Butembo and Katwa.”
“I think the most important thing was to say that yesterday (note: Tuesday) we passed the 21-day mark without a new case in Beni. This is a considerable step forward; it is a very important step in the response. As you know, Beni is a front that was opened in September, October, [and] November. So the fact of spending 21 days without a case in Beni…illustrates the work that has been done in the response. The fact that in the response there is positive progress, means that we must salute the work of the teams of the response, heroes and especially those of Beni,” Dr. Ilunga said.
Bishop Gabriel Unda asks everyone to get involved in sensitization and promoting handwashing messages to surrounding communities to curb the spread of Ebola in the region. Currently the East Congo includes 12 provinces among the 26 that make up the DR Congo.
Dr. Damas Lushima said that although there are many local epidemics, Ebola has found resistance due to several factors such as insecurity, resistance to observe the rules of basic hygiene, and reluctance to be vaccinated. Because of this, work must still be done to raise awareness on all levels with all means possible. In addition, the team will integrate others who live nearby because safety and saving lives is the priority.
Dr. Marie Claire Manafundu is the Officer of the Maternal and Child Health Program in the East Congo. Thanks to Harper Hill Global’s funds, she was able to raise awareness on the need for handwashing for the people of Beni, Ituri, and Butembo via local radio and SMS which produced remarkable effects.
The partnership between Harper Hill Global and the Eastern Congo Episcopal Region is strong, and in December 2018 World Vision joined in to support the local churches of Beni by providing handwashing stations. They have now successfully integrated handwashing policies. Now local Methodist Christians wash their hands before and after Sunday worship.
Some people who said that Ebola did not exist today are starting to believe that it does as a result of effective health messages on the radio, television, and SMS. These vital communications discuss the signs of the disease and the mode of contamination.
More than 4 million people follow the handwashing announcement on the radio station RTGB in Beni and Butembo three times a day, namely at 5:45am, 2:30pm, and 8:30pm. This could not have been done without the support of the director of the radio station RTGB, Mr. Kasereka Jadot.
The message about the need to wash one’s hands was on the radio and became a popular song. This helped to diminish some confirmed cases and suspected cases in the region! Reverend Ezechiel Mathe, a District Superintendent from the District of Beni, thanks Harper Hill Global for the mobilization of funds to increase health awareness in his district. He went on to say that work will continue to raise awareness in the most remote areas.
Continued Work Ahead
Anyone of good will trying to help the Church in this affected area should take extreme caution because local community leaders will have to identify local people who resist safety precautions. Local leaders will do everything to break this resistance by respecting the rules of hygiene and accepting vaccinations offered by the response teams set up by the Congolese Government.
Judith Osongo Yanga, Director of Communications in East Congo, says that Harper Hill Global continued support into January 2019 so that the awareness on handwashing song ‘Lavage Des Mains” could continue on RTGB radio and SMS throughout Beni.
Through effective communication, people throughout DR Congo have been reached with a message of encouragement, hope and peace with the help of Harper Hill Global and the United Methodist Church. Hopefully throughout the year, people in even the most rural of places will receive this message as the fight to prevent the spread of Ebola continues for the country.
For more stories on the work Harper Hill Global and The United Methodist Church have done to help prevention awareness in DR Congo, click here.
Since May 2018, Harper Hill Global has provided media grants and communications leadership for The UMC of East Congo to reach those most likely to be affected by Ebola. Help us increase access to life-saving information. Please consider donating today!
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Written by Philippe Lolonga, a Harper Hill Global correspondent located in Kivu, DR Congo.