The fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has intensified, after health authorities confirmed the first Ebola case in the major city of Goma.
World Vision has scaled up its response to the deadly virus after the DRC Ministry of Health confirmed a pastor who had been working in Butembo, one of the hardest-hit towns during the outbreak, had tested positive for Ebola.
The pastor had travelled to Goma on a bus and was taken to an Ebola Treatment Centre on Sunday. He has reportedly died.
World Vision DRC National Director Anne-Marie Connor says while the detection poses a fresh threat, it was one that could be controlled.
“We’re deeply saddened and many residents are extremely worried to hear Ebola has again jumped cities, but we’re comforted by the fact that health authorities have acted swiftly to identify this case and the 18 other passengers who travelled with him,” she says.
“This is a confronting reminder that all it takes is one case for Ebola to leap into a major city or across a border.”
The number of Ebola cases has overtaken 2500, with 67 per cent dead, according to DRC Ministry of Health.
The World Health Organisation and UNOCHA held a high-level meeting in Geneva this wek, to galvanise international support for the Ebola response.
“It’s nearly one year since the DRC outbreak was declared, the timely assistance is crucial because no country can stamp out Ebola on its own,” says World Vision DRC’s Ebola response director, Moussa Sangara.
“Many people have been worried about Ebola reaching Goma because it’s a major trade city, home to 1.2 million people and many residents move across the border to Rwanda regularly. That’s why we expanded our prevention work here recently, because we can’t afford for residents to not be prepared.”
Humanitarian organisations, such as World Vision, are working around the clock to limit spread of the deadly virus in the volatile North Kivu zone, where militia fighting and attacks on Ebola Treatment Centres have impacted health operations.
World Vision is calling for more funding to meet all urgent humanitarian needs in the Ebola-affected areas, to alleviate suffering and improve the acceptance of the response.
WV Australia CEO Claire Rogers said the Australian Government should step up and fund the DR Congo Humanitarian Response Plan.
“It is our responsibility as one of the wealthiest nations to help address humanitarian crises like the one crippling the DR Congo right now,” she said.
“How far does this have to go and how long must the crisis last before we start to care?
“Australia has ignored the dire needs of the DR Congo for years, and the Ebola crisis has escalated since it was first identified in the DR Congo 11 months ago.”
The organisation has made strong gains in building trust with influential community leaders, including pastors and imams. They are among the most trusted when it comes to information about Ebola and can help in the fight to break the chain of transmission.
“This isn’t like past Ebola outbreaks, which occurred in relatively stable climates,” says Mr Sangara.
“Halting Ebola in an active conflict zone requires a unique mix of skills. Health workers suddenly need to be peace builders or negotiators in the midst of conflict. World Vision staff are broadcasters and training experts, bringing people from different backgrounds and faiths together.”
Funding constraints also continue to impact the response, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently announcing it was facing a 55 per cent funding gap.
World Vision staff in western Uganda are on standby preparing to respond should Ebola leap across borders again, while World Vision South Sudan is monitoring carefully after a case was confirmed 70 kms from the border.
“We are extremely concerned that it is only a matter of time before Ebola impacts South Sudan. We are on stand-by and prepared for the worst-case scenario,” says World Vision’s Country Programme Director in South Sudan, Dr Mesfin Loha.
“Among those who are being screened are people who move in the border and refugees who are fleeing violence in DRC. We must be proactive because the local health capacity in South Sudan would struggle to cope with an outbreak.”