The rest of our time in Goma was spent with our local partner, HEAL Africa, and an international partner with whom we have a great collaboration, Tearfund. Sitting together, we thought through how much we could reasonably scale up in order to mobilize an effort to keep Ebola from reaching Goma, a city of 2 million people. Ebola would take off in a dense urban environment like Goma, and controlling it would be much more difficult than in the relatively rural areas of North Kivu. Our desire to mobilize the most robust response was tempered by our capacity to ensure good oversight over the facilities we would support. One stumbling block for us is the main road connecting the outbreak zone and Goma is very dangerous, and this is precisely the area where we need to work. The road runs through a national park that harbors myriad rebel groups and bad actors. The only way through is by convoy, arranged by the park guards at each entrance. This is the zone we are preparing to move into. During our meeting, much of our conversation focused on what adaptive and innovative approaches we could take to ensure our work is well done while also ensuring our staff are safe.
Presently IMA World Health supports 76 facilities in Butembo, Beni and Goma. In these facilities we provide training to health care workers on how to protect themselves from Ebola infection. We reorganize the clinics to set up screening, triage and isolation units so that suspected cases are separated from the general patient population as soon as possible. We ensure facilities have enough water to properly sanitize the facility and wash hands and equipment. We provide chlorine, soap, bleach, gloves and other basic supplies to reduce the likelihood of spreading Ebola within a health clinic. And we have equipped health care workers with protective equipment — the white or yellow outfits that look like space suits that you have seen in the news. We work with community workers to keep an eye out in their communities for families that may be caring for a sick person. We visit our facilities three times a week to make sure they have the supplies they need and address any problems they might have. And we report everything that happens in the facility to the U.N. Emergency Operations Center for aggregation. This level of engagement with local health facilities takes an enormous amount of effort. However, IMA is committed to this model because it builds the capacity of the existing health system.
Ebola will not be in North Kivu forever, but the facilities we are supporting will retain the water facilities we have supported, and the health care workers will retain the skills to protect themselves from deadly infectious diseases long after the Ebola response has ended. At IMA we say that we use development approaches in emergency response settings. Our work in the Ebola zone is exactly what we mean. IMA has three employees working in the Ebola zone, and we work through a local partner to implement our activities. Our staff sit in their offices, working side by side to control this outbreak. We “lead from behind,” supporting local partners and the Ministry of Health to perform their mandate in ways that will bring this outbreak under control. In the end our local partners will be stronger, the Ministry of Health local personnel will be better able to perform their functions overseeing the health system, and IMA will effectively “work itself out of a job.”
That is the vision we have for a post-Ebola DRC. Until that time, we are with the people of Eastern DRC. We will walk this journey with you. We will support you during your time of crisis. And we will rejoice with you when you emerge from these dark days, stronger and more resilient than ever.