On November 18, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) and government officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced the end of the latest Ebola outbreak. This outbreak started in June 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and was the 11th Ebola outbreak in the DRC since the first recognition of the disease in 1976. “It wasn’t easy, but we’ve done it!” tweeted the Regional Director of WHO, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. The DRC, one of the most impoverished countries on earth, emerged from the wake of the most recent Ebola outbreak after learning some important lessons. The information gained from this occurrence has offered insight that can help slow the spread of COVID-19 on a global scale.
At the start of the pandemic, the country’s COVID-19 mortality rate was 10%. In just six months, that rate decreased to 2.5%. Here are the five key components the DRC discovered are vital in its attempt to slow the spread of a viral outbreak.
5 Ways the DRC Can Slow the Spread of COVID-19
- Community engagement is of extreme importance in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The Ebola aid response initially failed due to significant mistrust from people in the communities that needed help. The continuous conflict between the militant groups and the government made it difficult to earn the trust of DRC citizens. As the outbreak grew, aid workers realized that spending more time directly engaging with individuals in affected communities made them more trusting. Workers built confidence by increasing the community’s knowledge of the virus. Engagement from spiritual advisors, educators and other community leaders in addition to politicians and law enforcement is essential. These varying perspectives are useful in soothing fears, offering guidance and rooting out rumors and misinformation.
- Involving social scientists as soon as possible is paramount. Epidemics often sow seeds of resentment and suspicion within communities. As a result, these “seeds” often impede recovery and prevention efforts if allowed to grow. When scientists use their experience to analyze community structures, they can quickly identify areas of distrust. Their unique perspective on human behavior and cultural practices can then assist in developing solutions that are acceptable to all. Communities are then more likely to take ownership and come together to work towards strategies to slow the spread of the disease.
- Prioritizing the patient experience is mutually beneficial to the infected person as well as those providing the treatment. Stigma often follows survivors of Ebola with families and communities, with others expressing fear toward individuals even after they have recovered. Those recovering from COVID-19 often experience similar shaming. Conditions that result in trauma or embarrassment for the patient provide those who the virus may infect with a reason to ignore their treatment options. Performing care with respect, empathy and dignity offers a positive experience. This increases the chance that newly infected patients will seek help. Outreach in the form of education can reduce a community’s discontent. A better grasp of how the virus works and the recovery process provides understanding and relief.
- Deploying familial leaders for monitoring, early case detection, contact tracing, quarantine and follow-up is beneficial. As many see the leader in their family as a protector, this role is uniquely advantageous in increasing understanding of the disease itself. Family leaders are also in good positions to be the ones who take on the role of bolstering understanding of personal and family precautionary measures. An entire household working to slow the spread of COVID-19 can have a greater impact than individual effort.
- Taking action to ensure swift turnaround times for labs is important. One priority during the Ebola outbreak was getting lab results back to patients as quickly as possible. Primarily, this is to relieve any existing anxieties for the patient and the patient’s family. Additionally, quick turnaround allows for quick, public safety protocol execution to prevent the further spread of disease. This strategy is equally effective in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Even with one lethal and viral outbreak in the DRC finished, COVID-19 remains a very real and deadly threat. Through surviving Ebola, the DRC government grasped valuable, global lessons. The DRC government is using the tactics that proved successful in defeating the Ebola virus outbreak to slow the spread of COVID-19. As world leaders plan and devise strategies, the DRC’s successes serve as experienced examples in this globally critical situation with little precedent.
– Rachel Proctor