The second-worst Ebola epidemic in history is taking place in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The disease has claimed more than 1,900 lives since the outbreak garnered World Health Organization (WHO) concern in August of last year. In the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, more than 11,000 deaths were recorded, according to WHO records.
WHO is reporting an average of 12 new cases of Ebola each day in the DRC, with the Congolese government estimating that only 50 percent of Ebola cases are being identified.
In mid-July, the Congolese city of Goma reported its first case of Ebola. With a population of 2 million, Goma is situated near the borders of Rwanda and Uganda. Because the city is a major transportation hub in the region, there are real concerns that Ebola may become an international problem.
Health care workers in all three countries are being trained extensively, and their governments are cooperating in efforts to contain the disease, but it is a serious and complicated issue, especially in the eastern DRC. In mid-August, cases were reported in a third province in the country.
Screen capture from CBS News
A health care worker enters an Ebola treatment facility in Democratic Republic of Congo. The second-worst Ebola epidemic in history is taking place in the eastern part of the country.
Churches in the DRC can help by caring for orphans and vulnerable children who are often stigmatized because of the effects of Ebola on their families. Churches also can positively impact their communities by spreading truths about Ebola and demonstrating good relations with treatment centers. In early August, Protestant churches in Goma provided hand washing stations at their facilities to promote a preventative measure as simple as this method of good hygiene.
Despite the efforts of faith leaders to convince their communities that Ebola is real and that there are ways to prevent its spread, decades of political instability, mistrust of government and preference of traditional remedies over what is offered at medical clinics have caused many people in the affected areas to refuse to seek treatment.
An International Mission Board (IMB) missionary who recently led a Bible storying seminar for Christian leaders just south of the DRC’s worst-hit areas asked one of the church leaders about Ebola, and the response was that it isn't a real disease – a belief held by an estimated 25 percent of people in the parts of the DRC most affected by the disease. The church leader believed the disease has been manufactured by political factions to reduce the population, which would then allow them to exploit the country's vast mineral wealth.
Because so many people wait until they are extremely ill to go to a treatment center, and therefore they are likely to die there, the centers have become unfairly regarded as places of death instead of places of recovery. Many who accept the reality of Ebola haven't had access to medical care because regional conflict and mistrust of health care workers has led to numerous casualties and the destruction of treatment facilities. The BBC reports there have been some 200 attacks against Ebola treatment facilities and health care workers this year.
The WHO's declaration of a public health emergency marks only the fifth time the agency has taken this action regarding any global health situation. It should help increase the amount of aid being directed to the Ebola epidemic. Already, stepped-up production of an effective vaccine is underway and the production of a second vaccine is in discussion. And in recent days, two drugs have been found to raise the survival rate to 90 percent in patients who receive the drugs when they still have low levels of the virus in their blood.
Larry Pepper, an IMB medical doctor in neighboring Tanzania who ministered during an Ebola outbreak in Uganda several years ago, suggests some ways we can pray for those in areas affected by Ebola:
- Pray for the safety and courage of health care workers.
- Pray for the sick to heal.
- Pray for peace among the families who suffer from the stigma of being touched by Ebola in some way.
- Pray against the lies and schemes of Satan regarding Ebola.
- Pray for local churches to show Christ's mercy in their communities through services like material aid, food distribution and praying with and for health care workers.
Now a second man has died of Ebola in Goma, and his wife and one of his 10 children have confirmed cases. A pastor there says people are afraid. Perhaps their fear signals they accept the reality of Ebola and will take precautions. Pray they do so before it becomes too late.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Toni Braddix has served with the International Mission Board for nearly 38 years.)