Monday August 26, 2019

Fear of Ebola Virus Brings Border Traffic Between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo to Virtual Standstill

Beatrice Irunga, a 35-year old Congolese trader, says no one can cross the border without washing hands and being checked for fever

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A view of the Poids Lourd checkpoint on the border between Congo and Rwanda, Aug. 1, 2019. VOA

Witnesses say fears of the Ebola virus have brought border traffic between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to a virtual standstill. Long lines and lengthy delays at the border crossings have left many traders frustrated, but officials say health checks are necessary to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

Beatrice Irunga, a 35-year old Congolese trader, says no one can cross the border without washing hands and being checked for fever.

The measures are necessary to prevent people from carrying the virus across the border. But trade-wise, Ebola fears have hit hard.

Jemima Ibrahim, a Congolese trader who sells rice and oil in Rwanda, says the long delays at the crossing are costing her time and money.

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Witnesses say fears of the Ebola virus have brought border traffic between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to a virtual standstill. Pixabay

“The loss is huge,” she said. “We buy goods here in Rwanda. To export them to Congo is becoming very hard.”

Rwandan Claudine Irunga says she owns a shop in Goma, on the Congolese side, but can’t reach it because of the delays.

“I left Goma in the morning,” she said. “My shop is open now, and here they are not allowing us to go regardless of every document you can have. I am so sad. They say the border is open, but just look.”

The Rwandan government estimates that 80,000 people cross between Goma and the Rwandan city of Gisenyi each day.

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The government has not said the border is closed. However, it is urging its people not to enter the eastern DRC, where the Ebola virus has killed more than 1,800 people over the past year.

Dr. Diane Gashumba, Rwanda’s Minister of Health, is encouraging Rwandans not to go to DRC, and instead to find other ways to do their business in the country.

This stance goes against advice from the World Health Organization.

Dr. Kasonde Mulenga Mwinga, WHO country director, supports a flow of people to the member country to be able to address the response that is needed there.

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Long lines and lengthy delays at the border crossings have left many traders frustrated. Pixabay

The Rwandan and Congolese health ministers met Tuesday to discuss measures to stop the Ebola outbreak from spreading.

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Afterward, they said they resolved to enact ways that allow for smoother border crossings while taking “very strong measures to keep the epidemic at bay.” (VOA)

Next Story

Deadly Ebola Virus Spreads to New Areas in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

The World Health Organization said Friday that the deadly Ebola virus had spread to new areas in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

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FILE - An ambulance waits next to a clinic to transport a suspected Ebola patient, in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Aug. 5, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization said Friday that the deadly Ebola virus had spread to new areas in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The number of cases was 2,934, including 1,965 deaths, it said.

Since mid-June, the WHO has reported an average of 80 new Ebola cases every week. It said, though, that these numbers have been falling in recent weeks.

Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said two new health zones, Mwenga in South Kivu and Pinga in North Kivu, had reported cases in the past week, and that the risk of further spread remained high.

“The geographic extension of the virus has increased while the intensity of transmission has reduced in that time,” he said. “So we are winning against the virus in the intense transmission areas, but still failing to prevent the further extension of the virus into other areas before the disease is properly extinguished.”

Ebola, Virus, DRC
The World Health Organization said Friday that the deadly Ebola virus had spread to new areas in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pixabay

Ryan noted progress in containing the disease was being made in some areas. He said some powerful tools were being put to good use in tackling the disease. He said a vaccine now is available that is protecting people from becoming infected, which wasn’t the case in previous outbreaks.  Also, two new therapeutics are successfully saving the lives of people with Ebola who seek early treatment.

Community mistrust

But Ryan said pockets of community mistrust continued to hinder efforts to stop the epidemic. He said negative social media campaigns that have spread false information were creating difficulties in gaining community confidence.

He said, for instance, that some messages have said the vaccine is used to infect people, not protect them, and treatments are used to finish victims off.  “And there are WhatsApp groups and many social media conversations that are going on at that level,” he said. “And populations, like in every country in the world, are exposed to both the positive and negative media around any intervention like this.”

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Ryan said WHO must be smarter, quicker and more effective in getting communities to hear its messages about pathways to good health. He said the way to counter bad information is not by blocking it, but by putting out good information. Then, he said, it is up to the communities to choose the messages they believe will best ensure their own future. (VOA)