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Ebola outbreak ending as Congolese face new 'triple threat' of Covid-19, poverty and violence

07 Apr 2020

For the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as Ebola retreats, COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate the struggles of ordinary people living in poverty and the efforts of humanitarian responders working to meet the needs of more than 2 million people displaced by armed conflicts.

Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, where Christian relief and development charity Tearfund is racing to increase access to clean water and share information about how to stop the virus and prevent catastrophe.

Tearfund’s Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Hebdavi Muhindo, was hoping to breathe a sigh of relief as a recent Ebola outbreak that killed more than 2,000 people draws to a close this Sunday, but the threat posed by COVID-19 means the outlook is once again bleak. He said: ‘The restrictions placed on everyday life in our efforts to practice social distancing recommendations mean that COVID-19 could pose an even greater danger than the recent Ebola outbreak we have just endured. ‘Most people live on less than a dollar a day. Even if you could afford to bulk buy, it’s not common to have a fridge to keep food fresh during isolation. People have to go out each day to buy food for that day. People are afraid that if they don’t die of COVID-19, they will die of hunger.

‘COVID-19 is just not welcome here. Our health centres are not ready for it and do not have the equipment needed to save lives. Our best chance is firstly, to work together with local authorities, faith leaders and healthcare providers to educate the community, and secondly, do whatever we can to ensure people have clean water and soap for handwashing so that they have the means to follow guidance issued.’

But that’s not as straightforward as it sounds. Water is a precious resource and, as in many other countries, women walk for hours each day to fetch it.

‘Water is heavy to carry and most would prefer to use it to cook food to feed their families,’ explains Hebdavi. ‘Tearfund’s work providing safe, clean and accessible water nearer to homes is more important than ever. We are working hard to improve access to water in rural areas and alongside offering our usual education about basic hygiene we are informing people about how to avoid the spread of COVID-19 as well.’

The Bishop Milenga Mbala, the president of the platform of evangelical churches in North-Kivu, a Tearfund partner, recognised the role faith leaders play to provide comfort, support and information to protect communities, saying: ‘COVID-19 is impacting us all. Everyone must comply with the preventative measures to stop the virus and the church is no exception. At the same time, we need to keep faith in Jesus who calls us to love our neighbours - both local and global - and be Christian witnesses in our communities encouraging one another to have hope in the knowledge that nothing lasts forever and nothing is impossible to God.’

As a Christian relief and development agency, Tearfund is also uniquely placed to work with faith groups to strengthen the response to the virus.

In light of the arrival of COVID-19, faith leaders are broadcasting messages of hope on radio stations and using bulk text messages to communicate with congregations whilst observing social distancing measures to prevent large gatherings.

Faith leaders played a vital role in conveying public health messages to communities during the Ebola outbreak.

Tearfund is urging international organisations, government and donors to work with faith leaders, whose embeddedness in communities and unparalleled knowledge of local-level needs positions them as essential in beating COVID-19.

Tearfund is equipping both Christian and Muslim faith leaders with advice on how to care for and look out for their communities.

By providing resources and advice on how to handle tough theological questions about why the coronavirus has happened, Tearfund is working to breakdown fear and stigma caused by the disease and encouraging people of faith to pray for an end to the outbreak.

To make a donation in support of Tearfund’s work responding to COVID-19 outbreaks around the world, please visit https://www.tearfund.org/en/give/

Ends

For further information or interview requests contact esther.trewinnard@tearfund.org / 07783 409045 or contact Tearfund Media Team on media@tearfund.org. For out of hours media enquiries please call 07929 339813.

Notes to editors:

Tearfund is a Christian relief and development agency and a member of the Disasters’ Emergency Committee.

Tearfund has been working around the world for more than 50 years responding to disasters and helping lift communities out of poverty. For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit www.tearfund.org. Photo caption: Faith leaders queue to use handwashing facilities in Goma, DRC. (Tearfund 2020)

Faith leaders queue to use handwashing facilities in Goma, DRC. (Tearfund 2020)