The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), the humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1984. During that time, the team has responded to the Ebola virus that has struck the country ten times. The most recent outbreak, which began in August 2018, has reportedly been the longest-lasting and second-biggest outbreak to strike the country so far.
ADRA has been delivering support through provision of clean water, sanitation, and instruction in hygiene best practices. The most vulnerable of the population, who face dire needs during the epidemic, are children and women, whom ADRA has been committed to serving.
Unless the outbreak is contained by August 2019, the DRC is expected to declare in that month that the Ebola epidemic has lasted one year since the treatment of the first case.
The World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations concerned with international public health, made the official call that the Ebola disease in the DRC had become a global health crisis, and additional humanitarian aid was needed to contain the virus.
Since the current outbreak began in 2018, more than 1,700 deaths have been confirmed, more than 2,500 people infected, and 17,000 people are in question who may have been in contact with the virus.
Vaccinations, according to WHO, help minimize the spread or exposure of the disease, but because of ongoing conflict and community resistance in part because of poverty, misinformation, cultural practices, and marginalization, the outbreak has posed a challenge for frontline workers to contain.
In total, more than 1,000 people in Goma have received vaccinations, and more than 163,000 people throughout the DRC have been vaccinated since August 2018.
In the province of Ituri, more than 300,000 people have reportedly been internally displaced, meaning children, mothers, and fathers were forced to flee their homes because of conflict but remain within their country’s borders. This makes it difficult for aid workers to track people who are quarantined. There have also been reports of armed rebel forces clashing with local authorities and health units that are attempting to provide help to those in need.
ADRA’s Response to Ebola
In the DRC, ADRA has branch offices in 17 provinces around the country — six in North Kivu and Ituri — and is currently partnering with other humanitarian organizations and local authorities to implement a food-for-work program to help the communities most affected by the epidemic.
“Our top priority is to work with community leaders to help us build trust and engage with the communities. We want to bridge any gaps in care so we can offer humanitarian assistance,” said Mario Oliveira, emergency response director for ADRA.
Presently, ADRA has developed a child feeding program with help from UNICEF to work in health-care zones of Katwa, Butembo, Beni, Mabalako, and Oicha in North Kivu province.
“The main objective of this emergency response is to reduce the risk of malnutrition among children age 26 months and younger, pregnant and lactating women affected by the Ebola virus disease,” Oliveira said.
The project, according to ADRA in DRC, includes establishing maternal breastfeeding corners in treatment centers and health centers for children two years old and younger. The project is mostly focused on children who are deprived of breast milk when the mother gets sick and must be hospitalized.
ADRA shared that the initiative also includes purchasing necessary breastfeeding items to nurse infants; training psychosocial and nutrition assistants, including ADRA staff, on emergency feeding of infants and young children; and training registered nurses to relay infection control communication and prevention methods to patients in health zones. ADRA reported that it is also working to create awareness of risk factors and relay preventative measures of the Ebola virus to communities.
Through their efforts, to date, ADRA has reached more than 170,000 beneficiaries through prevention and community mobilization activities. More work, Oliveira believes, is needed to contain the virus.
“The Ebola outbreak will eventually be contained, but hopefully soon before it gets much worse and does not spread across any other borders,” Oliveira said.
ADRA is networking and coordinating with partners on the ground to seek out additional opportunities to help fight the spread of the disease, leaders said.