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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 24 May, 2020

Dublin man leading Concern team as they tackle major Ebola outbreak in DR Congo

The latest outbreak has so far infected 840 people and killed 537 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
Image: Concern

A DUBLIN MAN is leading a Concern Worldwide team as they work to contain a major Ebola outbreak that has so far infected 840 people and killed 537 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The number of Ebola deaths in the country has risen by 45% since the start of the year from 370 on 2 January to 537 on 17 February. At least 22 of the dead are health workers. 

As the lethal virus continues to spread in North Kivu in the north-east of the country, €100,000 in emergency response funding from Irish Aid, the government’s international aid programme, has helped Concern escalate hits response to the crisis. 

Concern has 180 staff in DRC, where the 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.  

“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,” Johnson said. 

His team are using the Irish Aid funding to train over 350 health workers in how to control the outbreaks as it nears Goma, which has 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. 

The team are distributing the kits in coordination with the DRC Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (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’s Regional Director for Francophone Africa, Reka Sztopa said: “This is the second biggest Ebola outbreak in history and the biggest ever in DRC.

“Insecurity and the lack of access to the worst affected areas are the main reasons why this outbreak has not come under control already. There are many different armed groups in eastern Congo so this makes it very hard to reach those affected,” Sztopa said.

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.

Notorious disease

Ebola is one of the world’s most notorious diseases, being both highly infectious and extremely lethal.

It is caused by a virus that has a natural reservoir in the bat, which does not itself fall ill, but can pass the microbe on to humans who hunt it for “bushmeat”.

The virus is handed on by contact with bodily fluids – touching a sick or dead person is a well-known source of infection.

Following an incubation period of between two and 21 days, Ebola develops into a high fever, weakness, intense muscle and joint pain, headaches and a sore throat.

That is often followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, skin eruptions, kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.

The latest outbreak in DRC is the 10th such outbreak in the country since the disease was first detected there in 1976. 

Concern Worldwide has reached almost 62,000 people since the start of the outbreak last August. 

The WHO has also 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 also currently experiencing other epidemics such as cholera and malaria. 

With reporting by © AFP 2019

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