HOW MANY CASES ARE THERE CURRENTLY IN DR CONGO?
Jan Weuts: In Kinshasa alone, the capital of the country, experts fear a large number of deaths. Due to it being a metropolis, social contact cannot be entirely avoided, therefore the virus can spread rapidly. In addition, only one in three people have access to drinking water, which is essential to comply with hygiene measures.
There are currently 180 official cases, most of which are in Kinshasa. We have to qualify these official figures due to the limited testing capabilities. It is therefore impossible to properly monitor the curve of the pandemic. There are undoubtedly more cases… One thing is certain: the numbers will quickly increase.
© Tommy Trenchard/ Caritas Internationalis
WHAT MEASURES HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO CURB THE PANDEMIC?
Jan: President Tshisekedi has informed the population of the standardized measures of the World Health Organization (WHO) such as social distancing, not shaking hands, and washing hands well. It remains to be seen what the effects will be on the health structures of DR Congo. It is critical that health care workers be properly protected so that there is no cross-contamination in hospitals.
The country will be able to rely on the structures, knowledge and measures put in place in the fight against Ebola. In the eastern region of the Congo, they have considerable expertise in awareness-raising and prevention campaigns, protocols for the protection and isolation of patients. This can be of great added value.
HOW IS HUMANITARIAN MONITORING POSSIBLE IN THE REGION DURING THIS PANDEMIC?
Jan: For security reasons, many foreign humanitarian workers have left African countries, which have closed their borders and put an end to air traffic. Providing emergency assistance is therefore a real challenge, but it is not impossible.
New avenues are being explored to establish humanitarian aid flights to deliver medicines, protective equipment and other resources needed to fight the virus. In partnership with WHO, we are looking at how medical personnel can travel to these countries. Caritas Congo, our local partner, is already active in the fight against corona and is currently focusing on awareness and prevention.
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HOW CAN CARITAS FIGHT THE SPREAD OF THE VIRUS?
Jan: We cannot ignore it because there will be many victims. People who fall ill will need access to good care, and the rest of the population cannot be forgotten. We must show solidarity. The majority of the population lives below the poverty line. Food prices are skyrocketing, which could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe for the most vulnerable. We are already seeing the beginning of chaos and unrest in the population. Financial support is essential so that we can provide food to survivors so they can survive this crisis.
CARITAS HELPS VICTIMS OF THE PANDEMIC
In Belgium, Caritas International is doing its utmost to continue the social support and protection of people inside and outside its reception facilities. We continue to provide assistance where necessary, with attention to the most vulnerable. In addition to DR Congo, the Caritas network is active in the fight against the virus in Rwanda, Burundi, Lebanon, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. But also in countries closer to home, especially in Italy, where mobile teams help locate the sick, organize emergency shelters, distribute food, etc.
You can help Caritas without having to leave your home. Support the Coronavirus Emergency Fund via our online platform or send the message “Coronavirus 005” to our BE88 0000 0000 4141 account number.