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Irish development agency Concern Worldwide is expanding its operations in the Southern Lubero territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as part of ongoing efforts to contain the spread of Ebola in the country.
The move comes as the death toll from the disease reached 1,405 and the number infected hit 2,084 in the DRC*.
It also follows confirmation of the first deaths from the disease in neighbouring Uganda.
Concern’s Area Coordinator, Mark Johnson, from Dublin, confirmed that the Irish charity would scale up its work in Southern Lubero, which is at the epicentre of the outbreak and accounts for 46 per cent of all deaths to date.
The number of deaths, in what is the second largest Ebola outbreak in history and the biggest in the DRC, has risen by 280 per cent since the start of the year, from 370 on January 2 to 1,405 on June 11, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Irish Aid has provided €560,000 over the past nine months to support Concern’s work to reduce the spread of the fatal disease. This funding has been used to assist 23 health centres in North Kivu in helping to prepare communities for the event of Ebola occurring in their area.
Concern staff are providing infection prevention control kits to the centres and training 1,150 health workers in how to use them.
They are rehabilitating water points, showers and toilets at the health centres, as well as providing Ebola awareness sessions to 400,000 people. Concern also has plans to scale up operations in the coming weeks.
Concern has been working in the DRC since 1994 and will continue to engage with communities as part of a strategy developed by the DRC government, non-government organisations, WHO and UNICEF.
“We have been working in Southern Lubero since April, where our approach has been to recruit local staff who will engage with local communities and local chiefs, not just about Ebola, but about the needs in their area,” said Mark Johnson.
“This may involve providing latrines for schools or rehabilitating local water points. It is a way of gaining confidence, which makes it easier to also disseminate information about Ebola and what to do if there is a case in their community. “
While NGOs and medical staff have been attacked in Butembo as they attempted to address the Ebola crisis, Mark believes that Concern is not viewed as an “Ebola actor” and so has not faced the same threats.
However, the charity’s strict security protocol will be enforced for staff working in the area.
“In North Kivu, all the elements are there for a humanitarian disaster, with a highly contagious disease, a million displaced people and insecurity that has resulted in attacks on health facilities making it more difficult for aid workers to access key areas,” he said.
The affected region is home to six million people and the epicentre of the outbreak is approximately 300 kilometres from Goma, a city of over 1.2 million people.
“Our efforts are concentrated on preventing the Ebola outbreak spreading further in North Kivu and preparing the health centres and populations in the event that it does,” he said.
“If the outbreak continues to move south and reaches Goma, and possibly Rwanda, we will have an international crisis on our hands. This crisis has already begun with the first deaths from Ebola this week in Uganda.”
The DRC, which is 27 times the size of Ireland with a population of over 85.2 million, is concurrently experiencing other epidemics that include cholera, measles and malaria.
If you wish to arrange a media interview with Mark Johnson, or for more information please contact Media Relations Manager Eamon Timmins at 087 9880524 or by email [email protected] or Communications Officer Kevin Jenkinson at 086 358 2886 or by email: [email protected]
* The figures quoted for the number of Ebola cases and deaths are from WHO as of June 11, 2019. More information and figures relating to the Ebola outbreak in DRC can be found at https://www.who.int/ebola/situation-reports/drc-2018/en/