The United Methodist Church in East Congo is helping Ebola survivors navigate life after contracting the often-deadly virus.
The Rev. Ezechiel Mathe, Beni District superintendent, said he has been counseling survivors and sharing the message of God to help them feel less marginalized.
Augustin Wasso, a United Methodist in Beni, said his 14-year-old contracted Ebola at the end of last year. He said since his son was released from the Ebola treatment center, he has been stigmatized by the community. He said people sometimes refuse to eat with the boy.
“When my child was infected with Ebola, I was desperate. But I kept faith in Jesus and today he is alive. I ask others to have faith in Jesus Christ,” Wasso said.
While his son’s recovery has been difficult, Wasso is thankful for God and the United Methodist community for the moral support and prayers.
“I continue to educate my family members to continue to observe basic hygiene rules and to have a consideration for Ebola survivors.”
Aimerance Kiyombo, a member of United Methodist Women in Beni, also survived Ebola and said she was shunned by her community. She said she was humiliated when she went to the market as people stared and made fun of her.
“The (United) Methodist Women of Beni have helped me a lot with advice, since I am already at home. Today, I start to be useful even though others are humiliating me. The Lord has delivered me, and today I have the breath of life,” Kiyombo said.
“My local church of Bulongo continues to help me materially and morally support me. This remains in my heart and I will never forget The United Methodist Church.”
Since the beginning of the Ebola epidemic in August of last year in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, more than 2,000 cases have been recorded. The death toll has topped 1,500, according to the latest reports from the Congolese Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.
It is the second-largest Ebola outbreak on record. The largest, in West Africa in 2014-16, killed more than 11,000 people.
Earlier this month, three people died of Ebola in Uganda after returning from a trip to Congo. WHO said those who may have come into contact with the deceased have been identified and are being monitored.
Response to the current epidemic has been hampered by violence and insecurity in the Congo, including attacks on medical centers and health workers. However, the region has seen improved security in recent weeks. In each of the last two weeks, 88 new Ebola cases have been recorded, compared with a weekly average of 126 in April, according to WHO. Declines in the incidence of new cases have been most noticeable in sensitive areas such as the Katwa, Mandima and Beni health zones.
Mathe said The United Methodist Church is continuing its efforts to raise awareness about Ebola.
“As a church, we will continue with this sensitization in churches and basic communities to end this Ebola epidemic that continues to kill people in this part of the country,” he said.
The church also has increased its radio presence and text messages in the region, he said.
As part of the UMConnect messaging system, an initiative of United Methodist Communications, the population of Beni and its surrounding areas receive two messages a day: one in the morning about fighting Ebola and a second in the evening preaching non-violence, said Justine Tshongo, a United Methodist Women leader in Beni.
East Congo Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda said he is continuing to plead for peace in the region and to work with partners to intensify the church’s awareness campaign.
During the Kivu Annual Conference, June 14-19 in Goma, Unda thanked partners including the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and nonprofit Harper Hill Global for its support in the fight against Ebola.
He urged those in North Kivu to observe proper hygiene practices and to share what they’ve learned with their neighbors.
Dr. Damas Lushima, general coordinator of health for the church's Eastern Congo Episcopal Area, said he is pleased with the efforts the church has made to fight the epidemic in Beni and its surrounding areas.
He said he will continue to raise awareness to put an end to the deadly outbreak and to look for ways to assist survivors.
“The church will have to look for ways to accompany (survivors) so that these people can integrate well into their communities.”
Kituka Lolonga is a communicator for the Kivu Conference.