GENEVA, Switzerland – The deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is worsening as trust in the response effort falters, says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
This warning follows confirmation of 18 new Ebola cases on Tuesday, April 9 – the highest single-day figure in the now eight-month-long outbreak.
DR Congo’s Health Ministry also reported that 10 died people from Ebola on Tuesday, including eight who died in their communities had not sought treatment and support.
“This is a very distressing development,” said Emanuele Capobianco, IFRC’s Director of Health and Care. “The bottom line is that Ebola is now spreading faster, and many people are no longer seeking care. It is clear that some vulnerable communities do not trust Ebola responders.”
Redoubling efforts to engage with these communities is critical, according to Capobianco.
“Trust can be built by going community to community, working with local leaders and villagers, listening to their concerns with empathy, and incorporating their feedback and preferences into how we work,” he said.
In-depth community engagement is central to the Red Cross operation in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in eastern DR Congo, where more than 700 Red Cross volunteers from Ebola-affected communities are at work. They have reached more than 1 million people with locally adapted information and have collected more than 130,000 “pieces” of community feedback.
“Our research and experience show that when in-depth community engagement takes place, acceptance of outside assistance improves significantly,” said Capobianco.
For example, intense community outreach and engagement in and around the city of Butembo has had a direct and significant impact on the willingness of communities to welcome, and in some cases, request Red Cross ‘safe and dignified burial teams’.
The safe burial of people who have died from Ebola is a critical intervention in preventing disease spread, as dead bodies are particularly infectious.
The efforts of the Red Cross and other responders are also hampered by considerable funding shortfalls. Last month, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – IFRC, and the International Committee of the Red Cross – launched a revised emergency appeal for 31.5 million Swiss francs to support response activities in DR Congo as well as preparedness activities in neighbouring countries. So far, only 11.1 million Swiss francs have been received.