The Christian humanitarian group World Relief is working with around 300 churches to battle the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The churches are based in North Kivu, as well as Djugu territory and Ituri Province, according to Charles Franzen, director of humanitarian and disaster response at World Relief.
In an interview with The Christian Post on Monday, Franzen explained that the work involves establishing handwashing stations at many of the congregations and holding meetings centered on advocacy and awareness.
“Through sermons and training with leadership councils and committees in the churches, Ebola messages are being spread across congregations,” said Franzen.
Franzen also told CP that recent cases of Ebola have been showing up in North Kivu and Ituri Province, with him describing the on-the-ground situation as “very difficult.”
“Almost 1,800 people have died, more than 2,500 infected but the major problem in halting this disease is that medical personnel need to be able to trace every single contact that an infected person has had during his or her infective period,” Franzen explained.
“After that, these contacts will be closely examined and kept in quarantine until they are either out of danger or they begin to exhibit symptoms of the disease which is then treated.”
A major challenge to doing this has been the ongoing armed conflicts between various factions and tribes in the region, including some forces that have spilled over from neighboring Uganda.
“It is not then easy to trace all the known contacts of an infected person ‘behind the lines,’ so to speak because the danger of becoming a casualty is too great,” continued Franzen.
“Many medical personnel have been beaten, and a few have been killed, and some Ebola centers have been ransacked and destroyed by local people who believe that Ebola is an invention of the West, and that all of this is just fakery which is being used and perpetuated by unscrupulous people to make money off the Western powers and NGOs.”
Franzen believes that churches in the United States could play an important role in combating Ebola, mainly through assisting in efforts to educate those in affected communities.
“One of the best ways for the American church to fight Ebola in the DRC is to provide assistance to those who are providing care and treatment,” he said.
“And to [help] others, like World Relief, who are working hard on advocacy and awareness, countering rumors circulating, training in primary case management, and making sure that local churches have handwashing stations and whose leadership are committed to getting out messages about Ebola, identification and response to their congregations.”
Last month, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC an official Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement released in July that it was “time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts” in the DRC.
“We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” stated the director-general.
“Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders — coming from not just WHO but also government, partners and communities — to shoulder more of the burden.”
In January, Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian charity headed by the Reverend Franklin Graham, opened an 18-bed Ebola treatment center in Komanda in the northeast part of the country.
“We have more than 40 medical and non-medical staff on the ground and more than 60 Congolese staff have also been hired from local communities,” stated Samaritan’s Purse earlier this year.
“All our staff have received extensive training in infection protection and control and donning their personal protective equipment.”