Doctors and nurses at United Methodist hospitals gathered to reflect on the Ebola epidemic and look for ways to make prevention efforts more effective.
The gathering came as the outbreak — the second deadliest Ebola epidemic in history — showed signs of slowing after 18 months.
From Feb. 19-25, no new confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease were reported. This marked the first time since the response began that there were no confirmed cases over a seven-day period, according to the World Health Organization’s Feb. 27 report.
The general director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Feb. 11 that experts were “very encouraged” after only three new cases of Ebola were reported the previous week in eastern Congo. More than 2,200 people have died from Ebola since August 2018.
In the news briefing, Ghebreyesus also addressed the current outbreak of COVID-19. As of March 3, the WHO reported 3,110 deaths from the novel coronavirus.
“Our greatest fear remains the damage this coronavirus could do in a country like DRC. Even as the flames of one outbreak begin to die down, we are fighting another fire-front,” he said.
Dr. Damas Lushima, health coordinator for The United Methodist Church in East Congo, said although no cases have been declared on Congolese territory, the WHO alert is intended to be an appeal to authorities to strengthen surveillance measures at airports, ports and other points of entry.
Lushima gathered more than 200 people, mostly traders, in February to discuss the coronavirus and warn against travel to China.
“We as a church have the obligation to accompany the Congolese government on the fight of this disease,” he said.
Dr. Claude Watukalusu, medical director of the Methodist Hospital of Uvira, said The United Methodist Church has made strides in its work to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.
Through its collaboration with partners such as the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries’ Global Health unit, United Methodist Communications, Harper Hill Global and Connexio Switzerland, there has been progress, he said, but more work needs to be done.
Dr. Djimmy Kasongo, director of United Methodist Irambo Health Center in Bukavu, agreed.
“We have already done a lot of work, but we cannot get tired. We will have to go to the end, and to achieve this, everyone will have to contribute to eradicate this disease completely.”
He said the church should continue to educate communities on hygiene, the importance of being vaccinated and the dangers of consuming the meat of animals found dead in the forests.
Education also extends to hospital staff on the use of personal protective equipment. Kasongo said each United Methodist hospital should have an isolation and sorting room for Ebola cases.
Léonard Shako, a registered nurse at the Irambo Health Center, placed particular emphasis on hygiene in hospitals and the presence of handwashing kits in each department.
Emery Lohandjola, a nurse at United Methodist Majengo Goma Health Center, said he has had to transfer suspected Ebola cases to the Ebola treatment center in Goma.
“I was very much affected when I learned of the deaths of nurses and doctors from the Ebola virus and, sometimes, from the violence caused by some ill-intentioned people in Beni,” he said.
He said he is vigilant in wearing protective gear at work.
“Every day as nursing staff, I must do everything to protect myself because we receive the patients and cannot start to treat them without protecting ourselves,” he said.
Lohandjola noted that Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda is putting himself in harm’s way to educate his flock.
“In the past month, this man of God has affected more than 2,500 kilometers inside the Maniema province to sensitize the population to protect themselves against this disease,” he said.
Unda asked all clergy to spread the message of awareness for Ebola and the non-stigmatization of Ebola survivors because they need the church’s assistance.
“God we pray will not leave us. That is why I have the conviction that one day Ebola will be eradicated among us,” he said.
Kituka Lolonga is a communicator in the Kivu Conference.
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