United Methodists promote COVID-19 vaccines in Congo

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The global church has been hard hit by COVID-19, and Congo is no exception.

In the DRC, most people living with chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure simply stay home from church to avoid contact with others, said the Rev. Clément Kingombe Lutala, superintendent of the Bukavu District.

He said he will encourage church members living with underlying conditions “to agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19 so that they can also begin Sunday services. We will even start to organize three to four Sunday services so that social distancing will be respected everywhere.”

According to Steward Kikuni, Kivu Conference statistician, the pandemic has impeded evangelism efforts, church finances and, perhaps most significantly, worship attendance. Before COVID-19, average worship participation in Kivu was 24,000. “Today,” he noted, “we are at 10,000 faithful as an average attendance at Sunday worship.”

According to Johns Hopkins University data, there have been more than 30,000 confirmed cases in Congo, and 775 deaths.

As the world mourns lives lost through the pandemic, Lokadi Omeyamba, Bukavu lay leader, said, “we do not know if it is the end of the world which is approaching.”

Justine Tshongo, the United Methodist Women secretary in Kivu, has had more than four cases of COVID-19 in her family. She said she is ready to educate people to accept vaccination.

On April 8, the World Health Organization said that less than 2% of the 690 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered to date globally were in Africa, where most countries received vaccines only weeks ago, and in small quantities. Limited stock and supply bottlenecks impede fair access to vaccines.

Currently, said Dr. Damas Lushima, health coordinator for the church in East Congo, those eligible for vaccination include health professionals, older adults and people suffering from chronic diseases.

He noted that the church will work to sensitize people to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding that more than 1,527 people have been vaccinated since they began administering them in Kinshasa on April 19. The vaccination process began with the most affected provinces and will gradually spread to other provinces, he said.

Dr. Djuma Kasongo, the medical director at United Methodist Irambo Health Center, said the pandemic’s relentless pace has forced the church to teach the faithful how to live with the COVID-19 threat. Health coordinators in the East Congo District provided handwashing kits to all local churches, urging worshippers to wash their hands before entering the building.

Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, East Congo Episcopal Area, is persistent with weekly reminders to comply with health measures such as washing hands with soap, wearing masks and respecting social distancing.

“This pandemic,” Unda said, “has paralyzed several activities of the church, but we will have to continue to help the Congolese government in the awareness component in order to eradicate this pandemic.”

Kituka Lolonga is a communicator in the Kivu Conference.

News media contact: Julie Dwyer, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5469. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests


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