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Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide is increasing its efforts to contain the spread of a major Ebola outbreak that has so far infected 840 people and killed 537 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
As the lethal virus continues to spread in North Kivu in the north-east of country, €100,000 in emergency response funding from Irish Aid, the government’s international aid programme, has enabled Concern to escalate its response to the growing health crisis.
“This is the second biggest Ebola outbreak in history and the biggest ever in DRC,” said Concern’s Regional Director for Francophone Africa, Reka Sztopa, who worked in West Africa during the outbreak of 2014-16 that killed over 11,300 people.
“Insecurity and the lack of access to the worst affected areas are the main reasons why this outbreak has not come under control already,” she said. “There are many different armed groups in eastern Congo so this makes it very hard to reach those affected.”
“We must remember that Ebola can quickly infect and kill entire families and decimate communities through simple forms of human contact with someone who is acutely ill with the disease.
“One of the big concerns right now is that there are still some confirmed cases coming from outside the group of known contacts, meaning that the outbreak is not yet under control and this is extremely worrying.”
The number of Ebola deaths has risen by 45 per cent since the start of the year from 370 on January 2 to 537 on February 17. At least 22 of the dead are health workers.
Concern has 180 staff in DRC, where the global NGO has worked since 1994.
Their Ebola response to this outbreak, which began last August, is being led by Area Coordinator, Mark Johnson (33), from Goatstown, Dublin, who said: “It is vital that we do all that we can to contain the spread.
“Our current Irish Aid programme aims to prevent the outbreak from spreading southwards towards the big city of Goma and also across the border to Rwanda by supporting health centres and sensitising communities to the disease.”
His team are using Irish Aid funding to train over 350 health workers in how to control the outbreak as it nears Goma, the capital city of North Kivu with a population of over one million.
They are also equipping local health centres with infection prevention and control kits that contain items like masks, gloves, disinfection equipment and non-touch thermometers.
They are distributing the kits in coordination with the DRC Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is leading the overall response to the outbreak.
In recent weeks, Concern also repaired 15 water points in Beni city, close to the outbreak’s epicentre, to ensure people have access to safe drinking water, which is essential for disease control.
Concern Worldwide has reached almost 62,000 people since the start of the outbreak last August as part of an Irish Aid funded measure aimed at informing communities about what to do if Ebola reaches them and how to prevent infection.
The WHO has stepped-up its warning of the potential risk of Ebola cases spreading to other parts of the DRC and into neighbouring countries due to people travelling between the affected areas, and insecurity in the region.
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 and malaria.
If you wish to arrange a media interview with Mark Johnson, or for more information please contact Communications Officer Kevin Jenkinson at 086 358 2886 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.