Improved epidemic preparedness and response in the DR Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is experiencing recurrent outbreaks of epidemic diseases. For almost two years (2018-2020), the region struggled with the second largest Ebola outbreak worldwide. At the same time, the country has been affected by the world's worst measles epidemic since 2019. In addition, epidemics of cholera, bubonic plague, monkey pox, rabies, yellow fever, West Nile fever and meningitis occur repeatedly.
The existing health system is extremely weak and in the event of an epidemic, the capacities for effective disease response are not sufficient.
Since 2016, we have been supporting health facilities, villages, schools and public institutions in the DRC in epidemic preparedness and response.
The humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is characterized by a large number of internally displaced persons as well as South Sudanese and Central African refugees. The majority of the population has no access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In addition, almost 30% of the population faces severe acute food insecurity, which weakens the body's defenses against disease.
The already weakened health system is further burdened by a large number of infectious diseases with epidemic potential. Ebola, cholera, measles, bubonic plague, monkey pox, yellow fever, rabies, West Nile fever and meningitis are recurrent epidemics. The 10th Ebola epidemic in eastern DRC ended after almost two years, with 3,470 cases and 2,287 deaths, while at the same time a new Ebola outbreak was recorded in the western part of the country. In February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic also reached the DR Congo.
As the North-Eastern provinces are directly bordering the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Uganda, and have intense cross-border trading activities, a considerable epidemic risk also exists for the population of the neighboring countries. This has been demonstrated with Ebola and again with COVID-19.
The DR Congo does not have sufficient capacities to effectively respond to major epidemics. The health care facilities are lacking adequate infrastructure and protective equipment, as well as water and sanitation facilities. In addition, health care workers have often not enough technical knowledge in good hygiene practices and in dealing with infectious diseases and epidemics, as well as in proper risk communication.
The population is severely affected by recurrent epidemics and prevention measures can restrict their daily activities (especially in the case of COVID-19). During the Ebola epidemic, different rumors were circulating and parts of the population strongly mistrusted health facilities and involved aid organizations. This further complicated the epidemic response and even resulted in health personnel and facilities being attacked. Rumors and mistrust are likely to arise when the population is not sufficiently involved in the response from the beginning. Therefore, we pay particular attention to put people at the center of our projects and develop awareness raising activities in a participatory manner.
Improved epidemic preparedness and response through:
- Strengthened health systems
- Improved response capacities of health systems in the event of an epidemic
- Improved infection prevention and control in healthcare facilities
- Better knowledge and application of hygiene practices among the population
- Training of health personnel and local health management teams in infection prevention and control, management of infectious diseases and epidemics (surveillance, case identification and treatment, safe sample collection), and risk communication
- Provision of strategic emergency stocks (protective equipment, medicines and medical supplies) to health zones
- A mobile clinic with a treatment and isolation unit is on standby in case of an epidemic
- Improvement of the water and sanitation facilities, as well as the general hygiene situation in health facilities
- Community-based construction of latrines in the villages and schools, as well as spring protection and awareness raising for improved hygiene practices
- In case of an epidemic outbreak (e.g. Ebola or COVID-19): hand washing stations and screening of persons at border points
- Carrying out joint awareness campaigns with the local population, applying a participatory approach: interactive radio shows, radio spots, door-to-door sensibilisation, distribution of posters and leaflets
Area: 2,345,410 km²
Population: approx. 85 million
Financing: AA, ECHO, BMZ, donations
Partners: Local and national health authorities, health centres and referral hospitals