This week, the Ebola contagion has reached the point of crisis.
A five-year-old boy, who became the first confirmed Ebola case outside the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the current epidemic, died in Uganda on Tuesday night.
With the warning of the World Health Organization there is a very high risk of spreading the disease to the regional level, agencies like World Vision are working tirelessly to contain the epidemic.
Now, World Vision CEO Claire Rogers has written a harrowing open letter asking the Australian government to witness the humanitarian challenges of containing the Ebola virus.
When a five-year-old boy died of Ebola in Uganda this week, I realized that the moment when we were all terrified had arrived. The Ebola has crossed the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and East Africa.
This little boy – the so-called Index Case of Uganda – crossed with his mother and younger brother in Uganda from the DRC, where there were more than 2000 cases. The boy's grandmother has died since then and his little brother has been infected, and at least four other cases are suspected.
Make no mistake: Ebola is a scary and terrifying disease.
Contagion occurs when victims become symptomatic with fever, intense weakness, throat and muscle pain. Ebola can be confused with typhoid or malaria until the horrendous symptoms of projectile vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding through the skin, nose or even eyes are canceled. Patients die from dehydration and multi-organ failure.
The spread in Uganda is a blow to humanitarian workers who work around the clock to contain the Ebola in rural areas of the volatile North Kivu area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
No one wants an epidemic, but that's what we're facing.
Most outbreaks ended quickly, but this is the worst we have seen since the 2013-16 crisis in West Africa, which required more than 11,000 lives and several years to bring it under control. With most people dying at home and not in health centers, it is clear that there is still widespread mistrust in the communities.
Respondents want to act quickly and adopt a command-and-control approach, but to beat the Ebola, communities must lead the fight or have no hope.
In recent weeks we have spoken with village leaders, women and religious leaders – Christians and Muslims – to educate them to prevent the spread of Ebola.
The messages given by pastors, priests and imams are trusted by their congregations. This was the approach that reversed the outbreak of West Africa three years ago.
World Vision is training community health workers and provides thousands of health kits. About 90 percent of people at risk have agreed to be vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization. And the simple gesture of hand-washing is reducing the exposure.
However, with one in four cases going unnoticed according to the WHO, the Ebola threat that rages in East Africa is real. The Democratic Republic of the Congo cannot deal with it alone, but it is complicated.
Eastern DRC is a war zone in which 13 million people need humanitarian assistance, measles has killed 1,500 people and violence – including the use of child soldiers in more than 100 armed groups – is widespread. Trade and the movement of borders are fluid. There are sudden refugee flows of thousands of people outside the DRC each month, especially when fighting breaks out.
This ongoing insecurity is one of our greatest challenges. Partly because of this, despite millions of dollars paid into the response, and which have issued serious warnings for almost a year, we have a frightening cross-border spread of the Ebola virus.
Aid workers were deliberately targeted by outbreak outbreaks like Butembo and in over 100 incidents of violence, including attacks on ebola treatment centers.
From the beginning of the year, 85 workers were killed or injured.
Offering life-saving treatments and prevention without secure access is very difficult. The armed security forces escorting health workers are contaminated by the association in the DRC. This is not surprising in an explosive part of the world tormented by the conflict between armed, rebel and internationally supported groups.
Disinformation can spread rapidly, with some leaders denying the existence of Ebola, some who use it as a political tool and others who accuse aid workers of introducing the virus!
This is why it is essential that local people lead the struggle.
In 2013-16 the communities were upset and angry when they could not bury their dead according to local customs. The risk of transmitting Ebola during a burial was extremely high, so World Vision worked with local leaders to adapt the funeral ceremony so that the dead could be buried safely but crucially, with dignity.
Our community-centered approach to Ebola prevention has proved so effective that research with American John Hopkins University found that none of the 59,000 people we support in West Africa with long-term development work is dead due to illness.
The principles that the international community has learned from the epidemic in West Africa now need to be funded and expanded in the DRC – and quickly.
Australia has an international obligation to pay attention to the ongoing crisis in the DRC, both as a good global citizen and because it is in our interest: Ebola knows no borders. If the epidemic is not contained, the cases could emerge all over the world, even here.
Together, governments, NGOs and interested citizens can make enormous progress in assisting the people of the DRC, especially children.
I urge our Australian government to provide funding for humanitarian aid from the DRC
– Give to World Vision, visit the site.
– Claire Rogers is CEO of World Vision Australia. Continue the conversation @WVAnews
[tagToTranslate] Health authorities