SANRU in the DRC Shares COVID-19 Strategies and Challenges
April 28, 2020
by Kathy Erb
We checked in with Malonga Miatudila, MD, MPH, Senior Public Health Specialist with CCIH member SANRU near Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to ask about the COVID-19 situation in the area and how SANRU is responding to the pandemic.
What is the community around SANRU experiencing with respect to COVID? How many cases are there in the area?
The reports I have been getting from Kinshasa tell me that the people living in DRC are well informed about the tragic situation in the Northern Hemisphere where some of their relatives live. They hear about imported cases who come to die in Congo after their return from Europe. As of late April, DRC has confirmed nearly 500 cases: 456 in Kinshasa; 5 in the North Kivu Province; 4 in South Kivu; 2 in Ituri; 1 in Kwilu; 1 in Haut-Katanga; and 2 in Kongo Central. Very likely, these official numbers underestimate the real situation given the huge difficulties to test people in this large, porous country.
I also understand that at present the DRC population is split between denial and anxiety. Most members of our local communities think that COVID-19 is a disease of Asia, Europe and North America like Malaria is for Africa. Yet, other members strongly believe that the ill-equipped Sub Saharan Africa will be more hard hit than Europe and North America in the coming months after the region enters its cold season, and their anxiety is fueled by predictions by WHO and other agencies.
We are seeing some resistance to the anti-COVID-19 measures imposed by the authorities. In particular, they cannot accommodate confinement, the main reason is that most of them earn their income from informal daily activities. For them to merely survive, they must be on the street every day to make ends meet. They prefer to avoid sure death from hunger rather than a potential death from COVID-19.
How is SANRU preparing for COVID-19?
SANRU has been designated by the Government as a member of the national team in charge of fighting COVID-19. SANRU is already involved in the implementation of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities as a partner of the DRC Ministry of Health. SANRU placed billboards in popular places and on public buses with messages that call for community engagement in the fight against COVID-19. With financial and technical support from SANRU, community volunteers, social media activists, a call center and the RTNC (Radio-Television Nationale du Congo) are spreading key messages on COVID-19. SANRU has also launched a special program aimed at improving Infection Prevention and Control Measures in the health facilities that are supported by SANRU.
Is there equipment you need that you do not have? If so, what is it?
The Government has designated the Kinshasa Hopital du Centennaire and a few other hospitals as special facilities for the treatment of severe COVID-19 cases. However, the centers lack the resources required for those services. These facilities lack not only respirators but also such basic commodities as essential medicines, mattresses, bed sheets, sanitizers, and personnel.
How are you engaging faith leaders in informing the public about COVID?
We have started a project with the Comité Inter Confessionnel, which is a group of interchurch leaders. Our objective is to get them deeply involved in communication activities at the local level to compensate for a lack of trust between the people and the government. We intend to lead the church leaders into reaching their members at the street or community levels through faith leaders.
What sources do you find valuable as you develop community education materials?
SANRU designed its IEC materials and program based on the information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO). In the process, we have found it necessary to adapt the messages to the particular local socio-economic environment. For SANRU, it is not appropriate to blindly apply in Africa measures which are being implemented in the USA or Europe without taking into consideration a population which is confronted with high levels of unemployment and poverty.
Is there anything else you would like to share about the pandemic?
Though COVID-19 is not the first pandemic the world has encountered, we hope that the present crisis would help the world realize the paramount need of togetherness. Helping Africa in general and DRC in particular emerge from man-made poverty should be seen as serving the interests of any member of the global community. May COVID-19 help the human race realize once and for all that if we are divided, we will fail. We will prevail if – and only if – we become united.