Text messages educate about Ebola in Congo

Remembering the West Africa Ebola epidemic four years ago, United Methodist communicators in Africa and their colleagues in the United States are working together to send messages of help and hope as the deadly disease threatens the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On May 8, the World Health Organization said the Congo government declared an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

WHO reported on May 29 that there have been 54 suspected cases of Ebola and 25 deaths.

New cases of Ebola have been reported in Wangata, a community in Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million. Le Potentiel, a daily newspaper, called for an effective response to contain this epidemic, warning that the people of Mbandaka have easy access to the metropolis Kinshasa, a city of about 12 million.

Knowing the danger of this disease and recalling the recent experiences in Liberia and Sierra Leone, United Methodist Communications and the Global Health Unit of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries are working alongside a network of 20 newly trained Congo communicators to develop text messages for the church community. Dr. Philippe Okonda, the East Congo Episcopal Area health coordinator, and Judith Osongo, director of communications for the church in East Congo, are leading this process.

Using the UMCONNECT platform, daily text messages prepared by both the mission agency and the communications agency are being sent to church members in the affected regions to educate the community about how to avoid contact with the disease.

Osongo’s first message read, “Learn how to protect your family and your community from Ebola virus. Bishop Gabriel Unda Yemba.”

Okonda will coordinate succeeding messages.

“I am very happy to see that I am sensitizing many people through the text messages,” Osongo said. “Many of them do not have access to a radio or the television. But through the text messages, we are reaching them and are sharing with them on how to deal with the disease.

“I feel joy in my heart when I receive text messages from many people thanking me after receiving the message against Ebola virus,” she added. “By preventing, I am saving lives.”

Bishop Yemba shared his concern. “The situation of Ebola in our episcopal area is very delicate,” he noted, “because of the losses of the faithful, and we deplore the death of our faithful in this environment.”

Praising God for healing, he added, “We are very pleased with the government's involvement by moving the national health minister to this place where Ebola is declared.”

He also expressed appreciation to Global Health and United Methodist Communications for their efforts to teach “our populations on the mechanisms of protection and prevention from Ebola. We ask them to continue thus by supporting our structures to better protect and educate the population.”

Dr. Marceline Lisala, who was on a supervisory visit to Mongana General Hospital, called on either churches to spread prevention information.

“I'm surprised by the messages of the United Methodist Church in my phone, I'm not a United Methodist, but my joy is to see how since the Ebola crisis began, The United Methodist Church has been raising awareness through text messages to protect and prevent the population from danger.”

On May 21, the Congolese government announced the start of an Ebola vaccination campaign in northwest Congo, targeting some 600 people who had direct or indirect contact with those contaminated by the disease.

“The vaccination against the Ebola virus … primarily targets the health staff, the contacts of the patients and the contact contacts," state television quoted Flory Kabange Numbi, acting government spokesman, as saying.

Guillaume Ngoie Muamba, director of the Expanded Program on Immunization, was among the 73 providers targeted for this vaccination. He was the first to receive the vaccine.

“It is to give a message of safety and assurance to all the exposed population,” he said. “I always feel normal after taking this vaccine. Side effects can still be felt afterwards. They depend on one body to another; this is not to be feared.”

Dr. Allarangar Yokoude, a WHO representative, said vaccination remains effective to cut the chain of contamination quickly. “If we succeed in vaccinating these determined targets, namely the health personnel, the contacts of confirmed cases and the contacts of these contacts, we are more likely to overcome this disease,” he said.

The minister of health, Oly Ilunga, insisted in particular on the commitment of all partners, leaders and population, to the epidemiological surveillance.

Omadjela is field project manager, Congo Central Conference, United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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