Limit the Spread of Epidemics
In the past, there has been some difficulty in tracking and containing epidemics. In 2014, the Ebola virus killed thousands in West Africa. At the time, many national health systems had trouble properly addressing and controlling its spread. With aid agencies not knowing where to dedicate their attention, more people fell to Ebola. Determining where to distribute a vaccine is critical for the future of any region. It is often difficult to make the correct decision when there is not enough information on human mobility, the spread of an epidemic and its lethality in certain areas. People could have better contained Ebola had newer technology been available to help aid agencies track its spread. The Global Epidemic Prevention Platform (GEPP) may be able to limit the spread of epidemics.

A Solution for Limiting the Spread of Epidemics

The Global Epidemic Prevention Platform (GEPP) is a project that Korea Telecom (KT) Corporation and the Ghanaian government created to improve Ghana’s health information system and limit the spread of epidemics. The project employs information and communications technology (ICT) to gather data on epidemics. It works by gathering existing data and by incorporating newer input from its users. It analyzes Call Detail Record (CRD) data to determine the spread of people such as cross-border movement. Its main goal is to prepare its users for possible epidemics, whether its users consist of the general public or the Ghanaian government. Its existence helps detect the early spread of an epidemic, allowing governments more time to respond and giving humanitarian agencies and NGOs the opportunity to identify possible relationships and trends.

GEPP Explained

There are three parts to the GEPP: GEPP Public, GEPP Clinic and GEPP Gov. The GEPP Public’s intention is to inform Ghanaians of epidemic-prone areas. When someone is nearing one such area, they receive a notification and warning of its status. If a user is in an area that may become contaminated soon, the app provides disease information and prevention measures for pre-response during their stay. They also receive a list of nearby hospitals.

The GEPP Clinic is for the public to make real-time reports to nearby health centers in the event of an epidemic outbreak. Users can fill out a report for either themselves or another individual with their symptoms. This report goes into the GEPP Clinic’s database and gives the government a better idea of what is happening in a particular region.

The government uses GEPP Gov, which allows it to access the data gathered from GEPP Public and GEPP Clinic to monitor any possible health crises. As a result of the digitization of airport immigration information, the government can consider immigration levels when monitoring. This also takes away the need to manually compile this information. All of this aims to help developing countries and their governments prepare for and reduce the impact of epidemics.

If a disease has already spread and it is too late to prevent infection, the GEPP can also address the aftermath of disease by conducting communications in the area. Not only can it address health crises, but it can also apply to natural disasters and their control. In the event of a natural disaster, the GEPP can help aid workers provide shelter, food and health care to victims. If an area does not have a working mobile network, as a result of a natural disaster or not, the GEPP can use its collected data to contact them via satellites and Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

GEPP Support

The Ghana Health Service, KT, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), Resolution 202, Resolution 136, Resolution 36 and WTDC Resolution 34 support the Global Epidemic Prevention Platform. While all of these play a large role in assisting the GEPP in its goal to limit the spread of epidemics, MNOs arguably do the most. MNOs provide the app with its official data. It gathers data from around the world and its software anonymizes it to protect privacy. This data then stays on a server or an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) cloud and can go towards creating a dynamic map for the ITU. Humanitarian actors and NGOs can, with permission, view this data through MNOs.

– Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Flickr

Infection Prevention and Control in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone did not have an existing infection prevention and control program before its 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic. However, infection prevention and control is an essential element aiding in eradicating and preventing cross-infection among the community, patients, health care providers and hospital visitors.

The Current Course of Action

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation, with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has made significant strides in an attempt to get Sierra Leone’s health sector back on the right track. This partnership involves the implementation of the National Infection Prevention and Control Action Plan (IPC) to prevent future infection and disease. The IPC will enable the equipping of health facilities and open up conditions for the resources required for standard and transmission-based precautions. Further, the goal of the IPC aims to prevent and contain health care-associated infections.

The CDC’s Involvement

Disease threats are spreading faster than ever before but the CDC’s efforts in Sierra Leone have helped improve the country’s prevention, detection and ability to respond to infectious disease outbreaks. These abilities remain especially key before outbreaks become epidemics with the potential to affect global populations.

The CDC has played an important role in infection control in Sierra Leone, even establishing a country office in 2015 to focus on global health security. The CDC has been diligently working with Sierra Leone on surveillance, emergency management, strengthening laboratory and the workforce capacity to respond to disease outbreaks.

More than 700 CDC staff members served on over 1,000 deployments to Sierra Leone after the Ebola outbreak. Further, this makes it the CDC’s largest outbreak response ever in a single country. Sierra Leone, as of November 2015, is Ebola-free.

Keeping Infection and Disease Under Control in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has taken a different approach to sustain the infection prevention and control. The country has invested in ongoing training for its health care workers. These efforts have helped ensure a safe working environment for all, with lower health care-associated infection risks. Health care workers and hospitals have improved their disposal of waste practices, hiring individuals to clean, along with disposing of the waste.

In addition, Sierra Leone has heightened awareness of infection prevention and control with the aid of supported sanitation and hand hygiene campaigns. These campaigns aid in the creation of a culture of hand-washing and have drastically reduced cross-infection among patients, thus eradicating Ebola.

As Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO Assistant-Director General, states, “When health workers are infected at work, this puts other health care workers at risk. Understanding where the breach in these measures is occurring and taking the steps needed to fully implement infection prevention and control measures can put an end to these infections.”

Na’Keevia Brown
Photo: Flickr

Burundi's Health Care
Burundi is a Central African nation, bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda. Those living within the nation face a plethora of challenges from civil wars to disease and a general state of civil unrest. On top of this, Burundi‘s health care requires efforts to reduce the spread of disease and provide better care to those affected.

The State of Burundi’s Health Care

The fear of communicable diseases grew exponentially following the multiple Ebola outbreaks in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. This illuminated the glaring flaws in Burundi’s health care system and an overall lack of preparedness for such a potentially deadly epidemic.

USAID has stated that Burundi’s health care system faces a “lack of adequate infrastructure and human resources to meet urgent community health needs.” Although the inadequacies are plentiful and debilitating, with relentless efforts, some are providing hope by way of ingenuity in Burundi’s health care system

Malaria

There were reports of over 7 million malaria cases in Burundi within the first 10 months of 2019. This is roughly 64 percent higher than the total recorded cases for 2018. The cause of this spike is a subject of debate, with experts citing climate change and an unequipped health care system as possible culprits.

A protozoan parasite causes malaria. After a bite from an infected mosquito, the protozoan parasite invades the red blood cells. People infected with malaria often experience flu-like symptoms. In 2017, there were records of 219 million cases of malaria, along with approximately 435,000 deaths. The vast majority of these cases were in Africa.

Many Burundians have taken refuge from the malaria epidemic in neighboring Rwanda. Although advances in fighting the disease remain somewhat stagnant in Burundi, Rwanda is succeeding in limiting the outbreak. Rwanda began coating refugee camps and homes with indoor residual spray. Since then, Rwanda experienced 430,000 fewer cases after just one year utilizing this method. Burundi, with a similar socioeconomic state as Rwanda, leads many to believe these methods could be beneficial for great success in both countries.

Cholera

Beginning in June 2019, a cholera outbreak overcame the city of Bujumbura, the most densely populated city in Burundi. With over 1,000 cases recorded, this far exceeds the national yearly average of about 200 to 250.

Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection caused by coming into contact with fecal matter, which is commonplace in bodies of still water. The disease causes severe diarrhea, which almost inevitably leads to dehydration. It can progress exceptionally fast, necessitating medical care within hours of infection.

Even with cholera’s endemic level in the city of Bujumbura, there have been minimal deaths. This is in large part due to the development of three cholera treatment facilities within the area. Many of the medical facilities face the incapability of treating the disease. However, with minimal investment, the country could make drastic changes for the better.

Ebola

Although the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has not moved into Burundi as of yet, the risk is high. This is largely due to the fact that many Burundians work and trade in the neighboring DRC. The border town of Gatumba, for instance, averages 6,000 border crossings every weekday and 3,000 border crossings on the weekends.

Ebola, a contagious virus, spreads through contact with bodily fluids (such as blood, urine, breast milk, semen and fecal matter). Ebola is classified as a hemorrhagic fever virus. This is due to the fact that Ebola causes issues with the clotting of blood. The issues with clotting often lead to blood leaking from blood vessels within the body, causing internal bleeding.

In an attempt to spread awareness, a fleet of vans equipped with speakers and filled with UNICEF workers are traveling around Burundi and educating on ways to prevent the spread of Ebola. Many of those living in Burundi are unaware that things such as proper hand-washing techniques can be the difference between life and death. Through education and increased communication within the community, many are optimistic regarding Burundi’s fight against the spread of Ebola.

Although Burundi faces much to overcome, through proper allocation of resources and help from an international audience, Burundi’s health care system can flourish, saving countless lives.

Austin Brown
Photo: Flickr

Aftermath of Ebola
An Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has infected 250,000 people and has nearly killed 1,700 people. The outbreak occurred in August 2018. The New York Times reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared this outbreak a global health emergency.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a fatal disease that spreads through contact with a person with the Ebola virus. According to the CDC, “It spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from EVD.” One can also contract it through direct contact with blood and sexual contact. Symptoms usually occur within two to 21 days from the time a person contracts the virus.

The disease spread throughout the Congo and proceeded to enter countries such as Goma and those near Rwanda. This outbreak posed a threat to surrounding countries and the overall idea of public health.

Health care workers and medical team members in those areas are also becoming affected. According to data that the Ebola Response Committee collected, 157 workers have suffered Ebola and 41 of them have died. This means that 5 percent of the people suffering from Ebola in the Congo were health workers.

Since these outbreaks have been happening recently, officials are stepping in to launch infection control. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is receiving help from different global organizations in order to implement new infection prevention and control (IPC) training.

One of those training sessions consists of preparing local nurses, doctors and health workers on how to confront this disease. This is important because most of the local workers do not know how to detect the disease and safely isolate patients.

Efforts to Treat and Prevent Ebola

Weeks during and after the outbreak, WHO began to work with community officials to advocate for treatment for patients. This work consisted of WHO teaching and encouraging people in the affected community to recognize the symptoms of Ebola and to seek treatment immediately. WHO also connected with youth leaders and community representatives in order to collaborate with the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) about responding to the outbreak.

Other organizations such as Save the Children have been responding as well. Save the Children has been working with different organizations in the DRC to ensure they know how to protect themselves. The organization is also working with WHO on the ground to prevent outbreaks from spreading any further. Save the Children and WHO are doing this to reduce the damage the outbreak has already caused.

Save the Children sent out emergency health units to respond to the disease crisis, as well as partnering with the Congolese government on the ground to support its health facilities. It has trained many health workers and community leaders on how to address Ebola in their communities. It also built 15 Ebola triage points that will assist in detecting and preventing Ebola cases among children.

Many different initiatives within these organizations are taking place to help advocate for this crisis and bring in as much medical treatment as they can. As Ebola continues to infest the DRC, the surrounding countries and their poor communities, they will be in a continued state of a global health emergency.

– Jessica Jones
Photo: Flickr

Ebola Is BackA mother and her daughter traveled more than 1,000 miles from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to Uganda seeking medical help to save her child’s life. The nine-year-old girl from the DRC was exposed and later developed symptoms of Ebola on August 29, 2019. She was identified at the Mpondwe-Kasindi border point and then sent to an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Bwera, Uganda. Sadly, not too long after her arrival, the child passed away. Ebola is back in Africa. The situation is grim, but there are organizations trying to contain the virus.

Ebola in the DRC

There have been a total of 25 outbreaks in Africa since the first flare-up in the Ebola River in 1967. It has plagued countries spanning from the West to sub-Saharan Africa with a 25 to 90 percent fatality rate. This sporadic epidemic has come back yet again and bigger than before. This disease has surfaced in the North Kivu Province. It is considered to be the second-largest outbreak in history after the 2014-2016 outbreak that killed about 11,000 people.

The majority of EVD cases are coming from one of the 29 health zones located in Beni, Kalunguta, Manima and Mambasa. Out of the 3,054 EVD cases that were reported in September 2019, 2,945 of them were confirmed reports. Overall, 2,052 of those people died. Children have made up about 28 percent of probable and confirmed cases. Health care workers comprised around 5 percent.

Expanding Outside of the DRC

This 2019 case is different because the country is undergoing conflict and there are a lot of refugees fleeing to different parts of the region. The DRC’s political instability, random acts of violence and infrastructure limitations have also contributed to the restricted efforts to end the outbreak. As of June 2019, the disease started to expand into Uganda, with four cases confirmed near the eastern border shared with DRC, South Kivu Province and Rwanda borders.

Ugandan authorities have taken matters into their own hands. They strengthened border controls and “banned public gatherings” in areas that have been affected by EVD. According to the August 5, 2019 risk assessment, the national and regional levels are at higher risk of contracting EVD while the global level risk is low.

Vaccinating This Outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative of Uganda, Yonas Tegegn, stated that whoever came into contact with the nine-year-old patient had to be vaccinated. Out of the five Congolese who made contact with the little girl, four of them have been sent back to their country for “proper follow-ups” and another 8,000 were vaccinated against Ebola due to the prevalence in the risk of certain areas in the country. Overall, 200,000 people in DRC and medical workers in neighboring countries have been vaccinated against EVD.

With this being said, there is no official vaccination that is known to completely protect people from this disease. However, an “effective experimental vaccine” has been found suitable enough for use. Another option to combat this virus is a therapeutic treatment that has shown immense results in the early stages of the virus.

WHO and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network

WHO is doing everything it can to prevent the international spread of this disease. It had already implemented the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) to “prevent, protect against, control and provide international responses” to the spread of EVD. This operation included many different concepts such as disease surveillance. Its designated procedures include notifying and reporting public health events and risks to other WHO countries, increasing risk assessments, considering whether or not an event is a public health emergency and strategizing international responses.

WHO partnered up with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) to ensure that proper technologies and skills are present in order to help everyone that is in need. GOARN is a group of institutions and networks that “use human and technical resources” to regularly warn one another to rapidly identify, confirm and respond to international outbreaks. WHO and GOARN have been working in at least 40 different countries with 400 specialists. Together, they have provided aid to more than 50 events around the world.

Isabella Gonzalez Montilla
Photo: Flickr

Ebola Virus DiseaseImagine traveling 1,316 kilometers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to Uganda seeking medical help for your nine-year-old daughter who seems to have been infected with the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

On August 29, 2019, a nine-year-old girl from the DRC was exposed and later developed symptoms of this rare and fatal disease. She was identified at the Mpondwe-Kasindi border point and then sent to an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Bwera, Uganda. Sadly, not too long after her arrival, the child passed away.

This sporadic epidemic has come back yet again and bigger than last time. This disease has infected the North Kivu Province and has caused more than 2,200 cases, along with 1,500 deaths just this year. Thus, making this the second-largest outbreak in history following behind the 2014-2016 outbreak that killed about 11,000 people. As of September 4, 2019, a total of 3,054 Ebola Virus Disease cases were reported. Out of that total number of cases, 2,945 of them were confirmed reports and the rest of the 109 were probable cases. Overall, 2,052 of those people died.

This disease has had a total of 25 outbreaks since its first flare-up in the Ebola River in 1967. It has plagued countries spanning from the West to sub-Saharan Africa and has a 25 to 90 percent fatality rate. Even though reports are coming from 29 different health zones, the majority of these cases are coming from the health zones of Beni, Kalunguta, Manima and Mambasa. About 17 of these 29 health zones have reported new cases stating that 58 percent of probable and confirmed cases are female (1,772), 28 percent are children under the age of 18 (865) and 5 percent (156) are health workers.

This 2019 case is different because of the way that Ebola Virus Disease is affecting an area of the country that is undergoing conflict and receiving an influx of immigrants. The nation’s “political instability,” random acts of violence and “limited infrastructure” also contribute to the restricted efforts to end the outbreak.  As of June 2019, the disease started its expansion to Uganda, with four cases confirmed near the eastern border shared with DRC, South Kivu Province and Rwanda borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative of Uganda, Yonas Tegegn, stated that whoever came into contact with the nine-year-old patient had to be vaccinated.

Out of the five Congolese who had contact with the little girl, four of them have been sent back to their country for “proper follow-ups.” Another 8,000 people were vaccinated against Ebola due to “high-risk areas in the country.”  Overall, 200,000 people in DRC have been vaccinated against EVD along with “health workers in surrounding countries.” With this being said, there is no official vaccination that is known to effectively protect people from this disease. Therefore an “effective experimental vaccine” has been found suitable enough for use. Also, a therapeutic treatment has shown “great effectiveness” in the early stages of the virus.

Ugandan authorities have taken matters into their own hands, strengthened border controls and banned public gatherings in areas that have been affected by EVD. According to the August 5, 2019 risk assessment, the national and regional levels are at higher risk of contracting EVD while the global level risk is low.

The Solutions

The World Health Organization (WHO) is doing everything they can to prevent the international spread of this disease. They have implemented the International Health Regulations (2005) to “prevent, protect against, control and provide international responses” to the spread of EVD.

This operational concept includes “specific procedures for disease surveillance,” notifying and reporting public health events and risks to other WHO countries, fast risk assessments, acting as a determinant as to whether or not an event is considered to be a public health emergency and coordinating international responses.

WHO also partnered up with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) to ensure that proper “technical expertise” and skills are on the ground helping people that need it most. GOARN is a group of institutions and networks that use human and technical resources to “constantly alert” one another to rapidly identify, confirm and respond to “outbreaks of international importance.”  WHO and GOARN have responded to over 50 events around the world with 400 specialists “providing field support” to 40 countries.

– Isabella Gonzalez Montilla
Photo: Flickr

Fight Disease in the DRC
With 80 million hectares of arable land and over 1,100 precious metals and minerals, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has quickly established itself as a large exporter in the lucrative diamond industry. Despite this, the DRC ranks 176th out of 189 nations on the UN’s Human Development Index and over 60 percent of the 77 million DRC residents live on less than $2 a day. Internal and external war, coupled with political inefficacy and economic exploitation, has hindered the country’s ability to combat poverty and improve health outcomes. Listed below are some of the most deadly diseases that are currently affecting individuals in the DRC and the different strategies that governments and NGOs have taken to fight disease in the DRC.

3 Deadly Diseases Currently Affecting Individuals in the DRC

  1. Malaria

The DRC has the second-highest number of malaria cases in the world, reporting 15.3 million of the WHO-estimated 219 million malaria cases in 2017. Of the more than 400 Congolese children that die every day, almost half of them die due to malaria, with 19 percent of fatalities under 5 years attributed to the disease. However, some are making to reduce malaria’s negative impact.  For example, the distribution of nearly 40 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets, or ITNs, has helped lower the incidence rate by 40 percent since 2010, with a 34 percent decrease in the mortality rate for children under 5. The DRC government procured and distributed the nets with international partners such as the Department for International Development, Global Fund and World Bank. In addition, the President’s Malaria Initiative, a program implemented in 2005 by President Bush and carried out by USAID, has distributed more than 17 million nets. UNICEF has also been a major contributor in the efforts to fight malaria and recently distributed 3 million ITNs in the DRC’s Kasaï Province. However, the country requires more work, as malaria remains its most frequent cause of death.

  1. HIV/AIDS

Among its efforts to fight disease in the DRC, the country has made significant progress recently in its fight against HIV/AIDS. As a cause of death, it has decreased significantly since 2007, and since 2010, there are 39 percent fewer total HIV infections.

This particular case illuminates the potential positive impact of American foreign aid. The DRC Ministry of Health started a partnership with the CDC in 2002, combining efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR, signed into U.S. law in 2003 to combat AIDS worldwide, has invested over $512 million since 2004, which has helped to fund antiretroviral treatment for 159,776 people. In 2017, it funded the provision of HIV testing services for 1.2 million people.

The country is also addressing mother-to-child transmissions. In the DRC, approximately 15 to 20 percent of mothers with HIV pass the virus onto their child. The strategy to end mother-to-child transmissions involves expanding coverage for HIV-positive pregnant women, diagnosing infants with HIV earlier and preventing new infections via antiretroviral drug treatment. UNAID, The Global Fund and the DRC Ministry of Health have undertaken significant work to accomplish these objectives and their efforts have resulted in the coverage of 70 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women.  However, much work remains to cover the remaining 30 percent of pregnant HIV-positive women.

Overall, there is still a lot of necessary work to undergo in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the DRC and around the world.  In total, UNAIDS estimated that HIV/AIDS was the cause of 17,000 deaths in the DRC in 2018.  While this is a decrease from previous years, it shows that the DRC still has a long way to go in order to fully control the spread of the disease.  Additionally, there must be more global funding. The U.N. announced on July 2019 that annual global funding for fighting HIV/AIDS decreased in 2018 by almost $1 billion.

  1. Ebola

Since 2018, the DRC has undergone one of the world’s largest Ebola outbreaks. On July 17, 2019, WHO declared the outbreak an international health emergency. Since August 2018, more than 2,500 cases have occurred, with over 1,800 deaths.

However, the country is making efforts to prevent the transmission and spread of Ebola in the DRC.  Recently, more than 110,000 Congolese received an experimental Ebola vaccine from Merck & Co. The vaccine is called rVSV-ZEBOV, and studies have shown the vaccine to have a 97.5 percent efficacy rate.  This vaccine provides hope that people will be able to control Ebola breakouts in the near future.

While there have been attempts to fight disease in the DRC in recent years, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, each disease remains a major issue. In the coming years, the country must continue its efforts.

– Drew Mekhail
Photo: Flickr

Ways to Fight Ebola in the DRCThe Democratic Repulic of the Congo (DRC) has been ravaged by violence and a deadly Ebola epidemic. Thousands have died, however, there may be hope on the horizon. A vaccine and cure for the terrible virus may soon end the years of pain and suffering caused by Ebola. Here are some ways to fight Ebola in the DRC.

Ebola in the DRC

The Congo has dealt with Ebola outbreaks before and managed to contain them before they grew out of control. The current outbreak, however, is proving to be difficult to contain as there have been more than 2,500 cases. Almost 1,800 people have died and the virus is spreading fast. With cases having been confirmed in neighboring Uganda, the World Health Organization says that there is a high risk that Ebola could spread into Rwanda and South Sudan as well. 

Challenges

The main obstacles to containment are a mistrust of doctors and violent conflict. Unfortunately, violent conflicts spill over into clinics where doctors are attacked for providing life-saving treatments for Ebola patients. In addition, a recent study found that almost 25 percent of Congolese people think Ebola is fake due to a lack of trust and the spread of misinformation. Some people even believe that Ebola is a money-making scheme and a way to suppress voters. Unfortunately, distrust means many Congolese avoid formal health care and decline vaccines.

Potential Cure

Scientists have been trialing two new antibody-based treatments. The success of these two treatments has been so great that Ebola may no longer be considered incurable. The two drugs, REGN-EB3 and mAb-114, have both increased survival rates to around 90 percent. REGN-EB3 is a drug invented by the pharmaceutical company Regeneron. mAb-114 is an antibody that was drawn from the blood of an Ebola survivor.

Recently, both treatments were involved in a study to test their effectiveness in comparison with the current drug Zmapp that has a mortality rate of 49 percent. The two new drugs, REGN-EB3 and mAb-114, were both found to have mortality rates under 35 percent. Even more encouraging, the mortality rates for the two drugs drops to below 15 percent when patients are treated as soon as they are infected. A major obstacle in the fight to control the epidemic is that patients wait a long time to seek medical attention. The new more effective treatments could convince people to seek help earlier since their mortality rates are better than the older treatments.

Possible Vaccine

American pharmaceutical company Merck has created an experimental vaccine that has proven to be very effective. Merck uses ring vaccination to vaccinate those who have come in contact with an Ebola patient. Using this method, almost 200,000 people in the DRC and its neighboring countries no longer have to worry about contracting Ebola. The vaccine has given 97 percent protection for those who have taken it. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that it will fund Merck’s vaccine production, with a $23 million investment signaling good news in the fight to contain (and prevent) Ebola in the DRC.

– Gaurav Shetty
Photo: Flickr

 

Dikembe Mutombo's Impact
Dikembe Mutombo is most famous for his basketball career as a player in the NBA for 18 years and a four-time Defensive Player of the Year award recipient, but he is also well-known for his humanitarian work. Mutombo, born in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has spent the last 22 years contributing much of his time to helping his home country. Dikembe Mutombo’s impact has been significant due to creating the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Struggle With Poverty

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has faced a long history of injustice due to political corruption and economic collapse which has affected the country in a multitude of ways. Approximately 70 percent of Congolese people have little or no health care, and many hospitals and clinics lack necessary components to keep them running smoothly. Many health care facilities have shortages of personnel and equipment and frequently run out of necessary medicine and supplies.

Some of the top causes of death in the DRC include preventable or treatable conditions such as malaria, lower respiratory infections, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases. However, in the last 12 years, child vaccinations have increased from 31 to 45 percent, and the DRC has been free of polio for over three years. Still, because 64 percent of Congolese live under the poverty line, they often have to make the choice between food and medicine.

The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation

Mutombo founded the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation (DMF) in 1997, in honor of his mother. Due to civil unrest, she was unable to get to the hospital for treatment and died that year.

This inspired Mutombo to create a foundation focused on primary health care, disease prevention, health policy and research and access to health care education. Its mission is to improve the health, education and quality of life for the people in the DRC.

DMF opened its first hospital in 2007, the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital, named after Dikembe Mutombo’s mother. It commits to providing high-quality health care regardless of economic status. Dikembe Mutombo’s impact has allowed the hospital to treat over 30,000 patients and employ almost 400 doctors and nurses.

A future project of the foundation will be the building of a Welcome House next to the hospital. It also plans to construct an elementary school with an emphasis on science and technology outside of Kinshasa.

Mutombo on the Ebola Crisis

Mutombo and his foundation have recently joined with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to communicate with the Congolese about the Ebola crisis. Almost a year after the initial outbreak, reports mentioned 2,284 cases of infection and almost 1,500 probable deaths, making this the 10th and worst Ebola outbreak that the DRC has faced.

The CDC began posting the public service announcements to its YouTube channel and on the agency’s website on Monday in some of the native languages of the DRC, French and Swahili. In the video, Mutombo describes the early signs of Ebola, treatment, preventative measures and recommendations. Mutombo told the Associated Press, “When there’s something happening around the world, it should be a concern of everyone living on this planet, and I think the epidemic of Ebola is touching all of us.”

Mutombo’s philanthropy in his home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo will impact generations to come. Mutombo stated it best in the Ebola PSA: “I believe as a son of Congo, I think my voice can be heard. Because everyone in the country knows my commitment to humanity and health.”

– Alexia Carvajalino
Photo: Flickr

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo
With a population of more than 85 million people, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has struggled with political and social instability since the Belgian conquest in the early 20th century. More than 100 armed groups are active in the DRC to this day. The second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, where more than 1,600 people have died, rages against this backdrop of violence. Since the virus’s discovery in 1976, the DRC has had 10 documented Ebola outbreaks, including this most recent one.  Despite these grim circumstances, a group of Congolese tech-savvy youth has developed an unlikely weapon against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; an app called Lokole.

Ebola is a virus that causes fever, sore throat and muscle weakness and later progresses to vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding. Patients die due to dehydration and multiple organ failure. Developed during the West African epidemic of 2014-2016 where more than 11,000 people died, the investigational vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV is currently in use to fight the outbreak in the DRC under the Compassionate Use Clause since no one has commercially licensed it to date.

What is Lokole?

In addition to medical interventions, the Congolese Ministry of Health is seeking technological tools. Through collaboration with Internews and Kinshasa Digital, it organized a hackathon in March 2019 which brought 50 students in communications, medicine, journalism and computer science together. These students divided into teams of approximately seven members, and each team sought to answer the question: “How can Ebola response teams leverage new technologies to achieve their communication goals at the local, national and international level?” Thrown together for the first time, Emmanuel, Ursula, Aurore, Joel, David, Israël and Maria worked for 24 hours and emerged with Lokole, the winning technology.

Lokole is an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) mobile application that is “designed to facilitate the real-time transmission of data and information between communities and the Ebola response teams” despite poor internet connectivity in rural areas. This team of seven chose the name Lokole because it is the name of a traditional Congolese drum Congolese people use to transmit messages over long distances. With this app, they hope to increase communication about the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

USSD technology is a text-based communication system used by Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) cellphones, which are used in most countries except for the U.S. and Russia. Even though text-based communication might seem outdated with smartphones in the picture, smartphone use across Africa is less than 35 percent and even those with smartphones might not have access to data plans. As such, a real-time mobile to mobile communication platform based on USSD technology is inherently more inclusive, cheaper and more useful.

How Will Lokole Help?

The Lokole app allows community workers to note and document Ebola symptoms through questionnaires, which are then relayed to Ebola response teams and the Ministry of Health.

“Real-time management of information by the different components of the Ebola response will help detect and provide treatment to patients more quickly and deploy resources on the ground more swiftly, which will help lower Ebola mortality rates,” David Malaba, one of the app’s developers, said.

While analog in comparison to smartphone technology, Lokole’s USSD platform offers the potential for real-time communication without having to invest in widespread expensive improvements in its internet connectivity infrastructure. Lokole empowers the everyday Congolese person with the tools to fight Ebola. It is a democratic grassroots health care model. In fact, similar USSD technology which connects the average citizen with a nurse or physician in a matter of minutes powers large-scale telemedicine platforms, such as BabylRwanda in neighboring Rwanda.

The development of the Lokole app is exciting in its fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the galvanization of local Congolese talent is a game-changer. Hackathons that bring disparate youth together to problem solve big, often overwhelming, issues inspire others to pursue change. Lokole is just the beginning.

– Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr