Health Crisis in Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo faces the worst threat of all the time amidst battling the global pandemic. The silent killers’ cholera, malaria, measles and respiratory infections have been consuming lives for years when the sudden 11th outbreak of Ebola gets reported on June 1st. Limited medical infrastructure and inadequate medicines have put thousands of lives at stake, while the travel restrictions to battle COVID-19 increases the death toll of vaccine-preventable disease like measles.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the largest country by area in sub-Saharan Africa. The country is located in central Africa and has a population of over 84 million. The country ranks 16th place in the world as the most populous country and 4th in Africa. The health crisis in the country has been a huge impediment for development since years ago. In 2018, the CIA estimated the average life expectancy in DR Congo to be 60.3 years: 59 for the male population and 61.6 for females.

Limited medical infrastructure, short supply of medicines, inadequate supply of over the counter drugs in pharmacies and threatening disease outbreaks has made the people suffer for years.

Moreover the lack of resources and poor security concerns in the country and the armed conflicts and violence in the east of the DRC particularly in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika are preventing the most vulnerable people of the society from accessing the basic health needs of obtaining hospital treatment or physical rehabilitation.

The country has to grapple with COVID-19 and the 11th recent Ebola outbreak admits cholera, measles and other chronic diseases killing thousands of people in DRC. The situation in the country has become almost unbearable and their coping mechanisms keeps collapsing.

The Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new outbreak of Ebola virus in Wangata health zone, Mbandaka, in Equateur province on June 1st.

The government of Congo has further informed the officials that the complex and difficult Ebola outbreak is in its final phase wreaking havoc among the citizens of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo amidst COVID-19 outbreak and the world’s largest measles outbreak. The report said that six Ebola cases has been detected in Wangata and three of them were confirmed by laboratory testing. Four among them are dead and two are under care.

“It’s happening at a challenging time, but WHO has worked over the last two years with health authorities, Africa CDC and other partners to strengthen national capacity to respond to outbreaks,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. The WHO expects new outbreaks of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo given the existence of the virus in an animal reservoir in many parts of the country.

 The measles response in DRC has been neglected from the beginning. It took a couple of months before the epidemic was officially declared in June 2019. Vaccination campaigns organized by authorities were delayed due to coordination issues, lack of supporting partners, many of whom were focused on the response to Ebola. A supplementary vaccination campaign, intended to reach those children who had been missed earlier, was repeatedly postponed before finally taking place in late 2019.

All of these factors have contributed to the disease’s heavy toll in DRC. More than 6,200 people have died of measles, of whom about 85 per cent are children under 5 years old. That is nearly three times the death toll from Ebola (2,268 deaths, according to the World Health Organization), yet the authorities claim that the measles epidemic gets only a fraction of the attention and resources it deserves.

“Today, the overall number of cases may have reduced, but the epidemic is far from over,” says Emmanuel Lampaert, Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) operations coordinator in DRC. “Some areas are even reporting increases in the number of cases, and there are about 100 health zones where the action is urgently needed.”

“Since January, more than 50,000 cases and 600 deaths have already been officially notified,” Lampaert says. “But many zones with increasing numbers of cases and deaths are not included in the latest national measles response plan.”

The people of DRC are agonized by the death toll taken by the silent killers such as measles, malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Alphonsine Ekima, 43, and her family have felt the terrible impacts of this crisis. Six weeks ago her three-year-old daughter, Marie, died of measles. She was buried on the same day as her cousin, who died from the same disease. “Marie was the fourth child taken away from me,” says Alphonsine.

The COVID-19 outbreak has worsened the situation by limiting the health facilities, transporting vaccines and carrying out health-related campaigns. The global pandemic has added fuel to the fire by creating circumstances for children to die from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles.

Today as of June 6th the democratic Republic of Congo reports 4259 cases of COVID-19 cases with 90 deaths. The first case was reported on March 10th and the disease is reported to have spread to at least four provinces. As a government response to the pandemic, President Felix Tshisekedi declared a state of emergency and announced border closure to all non-essential traffic and a ban on all trips between the capital and the country’s 25 provinces.

The Democratic Republic of Congo needs international attention and health aid from all over the world due to the health crisis and unfavourable conditions of the country.

By Jumana Jabeer

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