Dr. Richard Kibandja (at the center in blue vest), surrounded by health care staff at Centre de Sante Kiwanja in Rutshuru Health Zone

As Ebola wanes in Eastern Congo, doctors turn focus to coronavirus

  • Matt Hackworth
  • Apr 9, 2020

Just as physicians in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo have edged closer to ending a record outbreak of Ebola, COVID-19 presents a new threat. While much of the work Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health put forward during the Ebola outbreak may help reduce coronavirus’ spread, fear of how coronavirus will affect the communities we serve remains.

Dr. Jean Pierre Nzweve is an IMA assistant program manager who manages front-line health workers with our Ebola Response and Recovery program in Beni, once the heart of the Ebola hot zone.  

Dr. Richard Kibandja is an IMA assistant program manager who manages front-line health workers with our Ebola Response and Recovery program in Goma, a city of more than 1 million that has seen its first three cases of COVID-19. 

What is going on in your communities? Is COVID-19 perceived as a real phenomenon and risk? 

Dr. Richard Kibandja: There are already three positive cases in Goma. The risk is real because of the contagiousness of this disease, and the response capacities are minimal in this region. 

Dr. Jean Pierre Nzweve: COVID-19 is a reality, with two cases confirmed in Beni. Both our population and health providers fear for their health. The isolation measures taken by the government have been applied, and I see respect for prevention measures in terms of hand washing, no crowds of more than 20 people, closing of schools and churches.

Dr. Richard Kibandja

Dr. Richard Kibandja

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Are you receiving assistance for prevention and care? 

Dr. Jean Pierre Nzweve: Yes, our providers receive PPE for protection in monthly distributions, which were used for Ebola. 

Dr. Richard Kibandja: Preventive measures are already here, especially for the health facilities that we support. They receive PPE every month and hospital hygiene is always reinforced within our program. Mentoring and briefings are organized during follow-up activities. IMA already has a contingency plan that is followed in all offices, which includes preventive measures monitored by all staff in the office and at home. Case management is being coordinated by North Kivu Provincial Hospital and any diagnoses are made by the national biomedical research institute in Kinshasa. 

What are you worried about? 

Dr. Richard Kibandja: The contagiousness of COVID–19 and its possible complications.  I worry about a lack of equipment to handle positive cases with complications, because the DRC health system remains weak. 

Dr. Jean Pierre Nzweve: I worry about the risk of contamination or infection of our nursing staffs and their potential deaths from this. The population of Beni has long been disturbed by armed conflicts and Ebola virus disease, and now COVID-19 is causing more fear among the population.

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