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As fears of Ebola spreading to DRC’s urban areas grow, Oxfam launches public awareness and hygiene programs

Women collect water from tap stands in Katanika camp, Kalemie, Tanganyika, Democratic Republic of the Congo Photo: Oxfam/Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi

An Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has killed at least 25 since May 8th.

While most reported cases have been contained to small rural areas, there is a high risk of it spreading nationally and into neighboring countries as cases are reported in urban areas.

Oxfam has a team in Mbandaka, Équateur Province that has launched a public information drive to help people understand how best to protect themselves from coming into contact with the deadly Ebola virus. To increase awareness and prevention around the virus, Oxfam is providing door-to-door information to the most vulnerable people, and carrying out mass awareness activities including film screenings and working with local community radio stations. We have identified three local organizations to support these programs, and are also coordinating with religious and traditional leaders.

"Most people understand the situation and follow the advice provided; however, we hear people having doubts and worries about the epidemic,” said Jose Barahona, Oxfam’s DRC Country Director. “Some people don't believe in the Ebola virus or in the medication provided, others are afraid of it.  Cases of people leaving hospitals and refusing care have been reported, which could have dramatic consequences. There are also some traditional practices concerning the handling and burial of dead bodies that can increase the risk of transmission after death." 

Oxfam is installing chlorinated water points in hospitals, health centers, schools and ports, and helping to disinfect houses in which Ebola cases have been detected. It also provides disinfection kits and hygiene kits to communities. The team plans to reach 35,000 people in the first six months.

While this is still a potentially devastating outbreak, there is hope in a new vaccine that is being used already to help contain the disease. The international community must prioritize funding to the humanitarian response to prevent further outbreak – however it has only secured a small fraction of the $26 million needed.

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