The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Crippling Crisis

Seconds turn into minutes, while minutes into hours. Time passes slowly as problems continue to persist in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the Ebola outbreak is now making things worse. The second outbreak of the disease which started last year in August has claimed the lives of over nearly 2,000 people as of mid-September, 2019. 

When talking about the fatal disease and the complications it has brought to the already chaotic nation, one must consider a few facts before putting into theory the actual context of the situation.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s fight against Ebola is still slow. It is a process which has been delayed, slowed and at times, terminated entirely. The government of DRC has been embroiled in a multitude of problems. These include, (but are not limited to) corruption-plagued institutions, poor infrastructure and a faulty hierarchy that wishes to control things at its own behest rather than that of its citizens. 

Ebola has not only ravaged poor families, it has become a disease that will take years to control. The details of the situation also remain extremely grim.

The disease spreads rapidly and so far the methods to contain it are limited to suitable vaccines and experimental tests that are still ongoing. The Democratic Republic of Congo faces numerous other diseases which continue to claim the lives of innocent people. The lack of an effective healthcare system has allowed malaria, measles and tuberculosis to thrive. Just this year alone, measles claimed over 2,700 lives in the country’s western regions. Ebola has taken over the east.

A solution to combating deadly diseases lies in awareness, education and prevention. The Congolese have faced years of oppression and fighting between militia groups. In a country where there are around 250 ethnic groups and more than 200 languages are spoken, it remains a difficult task to overcome these problems. Besides complicated demographic issues, the real problem is the fear of visiting health centres where patients are treated ineffectively. Health centres have been reported to treat patients unfairly, often mistreating them. There is a long history behind the poor healthcare infrastructure. Years of long illnesses have not been treated successfully and hence people believe that the solution to Ebola might not arrive as early as they think. Due to this reason, people who are affected resort to clandestine treatments in homes which spreads the disease to their close ones. 

Apart from the above-mentioned problems, what remains to be examined is the constant offensive medical teams have been facing when the need of the hour is effective healthcare. Rebel-militias clashing against the government is the number one cause of delays as they mercilessly attack doctors and nurses not only when they are on the field but also inside health centres. ‘Doctors Without Borders’ closed operations in February this year after two militant attacks. Katwa in northeast Congo and neighbouring Butembo have both faced numerous attacks. The country faced over 170 attacks on teams, transportation and patients, making it the worst place for doctors to carry out practice. Even Afghanistan and Syria which face rising terrorism witnessed less attacks, with 41 and 35 respectively. The Mai-Mai militia units in north Kivu and the Allied Defense Units operating across the region are responsible for majority of these attacks.

Apart from attacks, another major threat faced by these teams is distrust towards outsiders. 1 out of 4 people say the Ebola virus does not exist or is simply fabricated for financial reasons and to destabilize the region. The lack of technology also deprives them from searching for information or using other resources. Many believe that doctors wearing protective suits arriving at their doorsteps are there to kill them rather than provide medical assistance. In some regions, many refuse to let teams bury their loved ones in black body bags thinking there is rubble instead of a dead body. What they are unaware of is the fact that the virus continues to exist in the bodies, 7 days after the person has died. Authorities must take action to dispel rumours that prevent appropriate treatment. 

At this point, progress has been made but many activities must be pursued. Firstly, researching minute issues related to the disease would help teams in significant ways by dwelling deeper into real problems. Secondly, effective vaccines must be developed to fight the disease more rigorously. Thirdly, for those who survive the ordeal, there must be apt measures to support them and to reintegrate them into their societies. Engaging with communities at this point would alleviate ongoing troubles as they need to be aware of the misconceptions that they’ve embedded in their minds. Lastly, more funding for the Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely necessary not only to fight the disease but also to improve the country’s depleting healthcare infrastructure and to ease clashes between the government and rebel militia units.