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Mutombo, One of the Greatest Defensive Players in NBA, Records Ebola Messages to Persuade People to Take Precautions

Mutombo, regarded as one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history and a well-known philanthropist

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FILE - Former NBA player Dikembe Mutumbo reacts on the court during the second half of the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament championship game between Wisconsin and Duke, April 6, 2015, in Indianapolis. VOA

Unable to send disease fighters to help battle one of the deadliest Ebola outbreaks in history, U.S. health officials are turning to basketball hall of famer Dikembe Mutombo for help.

Mutombo, regarded as one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history and a well-known philanthropist in his native Congo, recorded radio and video spots designed to persuade people to take precautions and get care that might stop the disease’s spread.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began posting the spots Monday on its YouTube channel and on the agency’s website . Officials are trying to get radio and TV stations in the Democratic Republic of Congo to air them.

More than 2,200 people have been reported ill — and about 1,500 have died — since an Ebola outbreak was declared in August in eastern Congo. It is the second deadliest outbreak of the lethal virus, which jumps from person to person quickly through close contact with bodily fluids.

Rebel attacks and community resistance have hurt Ebola response work in Congo. A World Health Organization doctor was killed in April, health centers have been attacked and armed groups have repeatedly threatened health workers. Because of safety concerns, the U.S. State Department last year ordered CDC disease specialists to stay out of the outbreak areas.

Mutombo, who moved to the U.S. in the 1980s intending to pursue a medical degree, told The Associated Press he understands where the distrust comes from.

Mutombo, NBA, Ebola
Unable to send disease fighters to help battle one of the deadliest Ebola outbreaks in history, U.S. health officials are turning to basketball hall of famer Dikembe Mutombo for help. Pixabay

“Someone who doesn’t look like you, who doesn’t think like you, who is not from your village, who is from other places, just walk to your village with a nice beautiful white truck and telling you … ‘inject this chemical into your body to protect you from this deadly virus.’ That’s where there’s a fight. This is where we’re having a conflict,” he said.

“How do you that build trust? That’s the big problem we’re having in the Congo,” he said. “I believe as a son of Congo, I think my voice can be heard. Because everyone in the country knows my commitment to the humanity and the health.”

The idea for the PSA was sparked in February when Mutombo, a member of the CDC Foundation’s governing board who lives in Atlanta, was talking with Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director.

“We are deeply appreciative of his interest to try to get accurate information to the community,” Redfield said.

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Mutombo, who turns 53 on Tuesday, previously did public service announcements focused on polio and yellow fever. A dozen years ago, his foundation established a 300-bed hospital on the outskirts of his hometown of Kinshasa.

The new spots were recorded in Kiswahili, French and Lingala. They talk about recognizing the early signs of Ebola, early treatment and prevention measures. (VOA)

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Massive Displacement in DR Congo’s Ebola-Affected Ituri Province Poses Serious Health Hazard

At least 160 people were killed during renewed clashes early last month between Lendu farmers and Hema herders

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FILE - A woman and her children wait to receive Ebola vaccinations, in the village of Mabalako, in eastern Congo Monday, June 17, 2019. VOA

The International Organization for Migration warns massive displacement from renewed inter-ethnic fighting in DR Congo’s Ebola-affected Ituri province poses a serious health hazard.

At least 160 people were killed during renewed clashes early last month between Lendu farmers and Hema herders in Ituri province.  U.N. agencies report the violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and sent more than 7,500 refugees fleeing for their lives into neighboring Uganda.

The International Organization for Migration reports people who have fled the frontline of the conflict are living in abysmal conditions that create a fertile ground for the spread of disease, most worryingly Ebola.

The latest World Health Organization figures put the number of Ebola cases at 2,382, including 1,606 deaths.  The bulk of these cases and deaths are in conflict-ridden North Kivu province   About 10 percent are in Ituri.

DR Congo, Ebola, Health
The International Organization for Migration warns massive displacement from renewed inter-ethnic fighting. Pixabay

The inter-communal fighting has displaced an estimated 400,000 people.  IOM spokesman, Joel Millman, says his agency manages 12 displacement sites in Ituri’s Djugu Territory.  Thousands of people unable to cram into these overcrowded camps, he says, are sheltering in spontaneous sites.

“Poor hygiene conditions in displacement sites severely increase the risk that Ebola, as well as cholera, measles and acute respiratory diseases, will spread,” Millman said. “Many of these people are seeking assistance in Ebola-affected Bunia, where the displacement site officially called “General Hospital Site” has received more than 5,000 new Internally Displaced Persons, increasing the site’s population to 10,000 or twice its capacity.”

Millman says plans are underway to relocate many of the IDPs to a new improved settlement on land owned by Bunia’s Catholic Diocese.

He says IOM also is reinforcing its Ebola surveillance and disease prevention activities at Ituri’s Points of Entry at International borders.  Measures include hand washing, hygiene promotion, and screening travelers for possible Ebola infections.

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On June 11, the first case of Ebola spread across the border from DRC to Uganda.  A five-year old boy and his grandmother subsequently died from the deadly virus.

Millman says IOM is working to reduce disease transmission to new areas and across borders by expanding its preparedness measures to include Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi. (VOA)