The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it is increasing Ebola prevention efforts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The agency says community resistance to efforts to contain Ebola is growing and must be fought to stop the spread of the fatal disease.
Since the disease outbreak was declared on August 1 in Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces, UNICEF has been working with communities to inform them about how the virus spreads and what measures to take to protect themselves from being infected.
The U.N. agency is working with community and religious leaders in the city of Beni, where health workers are facing hostility and resistance. UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac said the spread of false rumors and fear about Ebola are endangering efforts to contain the virus.
“We are working with anthropologists, particularly in this Beni neighborhood, who ensure that the response is sensitive to cultural beliefs and practices, particularly around caring for sick and diseased individuals, and addressing population concerns about secure and dignified burials,” he said.
Boulierac said UNICEF is expanding its community outreach program to support thousands of people at risk in the city of Butembo. Two new Ebola cases recently were confirmed in this important commercial center with nearly one million inhabitants.
He said UNICEF is deploying a team of 11 specialists in community communication, education and psycho-social assistance. The agency also will provide water, sanitation and hygiene to help contain the disease and avoid further spread of the epidemic.
In its latest assessment, the World Health Organization counted 197 confirmed and probable cases, including 92 deaths.
The United Nations says it is hopeful Zimbabwe will soon contain an outbreak of cholera that has killed more than two dozen people. Efforts are complicated as authorities are fighting a drug-resistant bacterium said to be fueling the spread of the waterborne disease.
Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health Friday said the number of cholera-related deaths has climbed to 28, and more than 3,700 cases have been reported across Zimbabwe, with the country’s capital, Harare, remaining the epicenter of the problem.
Amina Mohammed, the deputy chief of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said patients are not responding to the drugs typically used to combat the disease. She said doctors are now using second and third-line drugs, which she said UNICEF is importing.
She said the outbreak can be contained if people follow basic hygiene practices at home.
“This is an outbreak, at the beginning it is not easy to bring everyone together. But I think we have all rallied behind and are improving. I think we are stabilizing. I am happy about that. It could be better but we are happy that there is coordination by the ministry of health, together with the WHO, ourselves, MSF is doing a great job managing these cases,” said Mohammed referring to the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders, the latter known for its French acronym MSF.
UNICEF, the WHO and MSF are some of the organizations that took action after Zimbabwe’s health minister declared a state of emergency Monday.
On Thursday, the University of Zimbabwe postponed a graduation ceremony that President Emmerson Mnangagwa was supposed to attend, after police banned all public gatherings in light of the cholera outbreak.
But Jacob Mafume, spokesman of the main opposition party MDC, said the ban was only meant to stop its planned “inauguration” of party leader Nelson Chamisa Saturday as the “people’s president.”
“The government is using its failure to provide water, it is taking advantage of its failures to restrict the freedoms of the people. They are running scared of our president Nelson Chamisa since his victory, to quickly take over from ZANU-PF inefficiency so that people can be healed from medieval diseases,” said Mafume.
Mnangagwa’s government has refused to comment on what it called “cheap politics” by the opposition, which has refused to accept results from the July 30 elections.
It said it is concentrating on containing the cholera outbreak which has since spread from Harare to other parts of the country.