A closing window – on Ebola and anxiety in our neighbourhood

Last Wednesday I got a message from the founder of Great Actions for Development (GAD), Jeplock Kasika: Dear Friend, the Ebola virus is now a threat also for the people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Our neigbouring province is attacked and fear is spreading rapidly as the UN office in Bunia reports: 32 deaths, 76 infected and 185 who are possibly infected and held isolated, he told me. There is now over  3000 recorded cases, whereas 1500 have died from the virus  in West Africa.

How could this happen, when former outbreaks have taken around two mounts to control and claimed far fewer lives? The TV-journalist and writer Lindsey Hilsom writes in her blogpost: “The disease is not the only problem. Under-development, poverty and the lack of state institutions are the problem”. As is the case in Liberia; misinformation, ignorance, conspiracy theories and patients escaping hospitals will further exacerbate the situation.

Jeplock, who lives with this threat every day, added that fear and ignorance also plays a major part in the disaster.

– People do not want to interact with strangers in case they carry the virus, he said.

– We tell people not to eat bush meat and to have good hygiene, but unfortunately the anxiety has already taken control. This does not help anyone.

Antilope meat from the rainforest in Mambasa.  (Photo: Robert Vawter)
Antilope meat from the rainforest in Mambasa. (Photo: Robert Vawter, GAD)

In the humanitarian world we talk a lot about sensitizing, which is the first step towards making a difference. Each and every one of us need to make the change, starting with our own mindset. GAD is therefore a part of an ongoing sensitizing project in the area of Province Orientale. Jeplock and the other GAD-volunteers make appeals in the local communities, send out e-mails to various institutions and pin up posters to spread awareness.

One of the poster GAD is distributing.
One of the poster GAD is distributing.

The longer the virus continues to spread, it can favor strains that allows it to spread quicker.  It´s important now, more than ever, to follow Jeplock´s example and not let feelings of fear or impotence paralyze us. Now is the opportunity to control it and it`s a global responsibility.

WHAT MUST BE DONE:

  • Education and spreading information in communities about the virus.
  • Getting people as fast into care and isolation.
  • More beds in hospitals.
  • More medial staff.
  • Better equipment.

GAD only has resources to the first, but I am convinced that a joint effort between ordinary people in Congo and Scandinavia will provide means for the latter four too. The window is still open. But as director Tom Frieden at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: that window is closing more and more.

Ragnhild Tegle

Board member, GAD

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