Allyson Bear, the vice president for health programs at IMA World Health and Lutheran World Relief, recently travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she observed the response to the outbreak of Ebola in the country’s North Kivu region.
As my IMA World Health colleagues and I pulled our suitcases through the Rwanda border to the Democratic Republic of Congo immigration building, the Ebola response was noticeably present. White marked U.N. personnel carriers and fuel trucks were lined up to cross the border. We washed our hands at chlorinated water stations. We had our temperature taken and recorded three times at different points between the buildings, and we applied and reapplied hand sanitizer every few yards. None of these measures were optional.
The city of Goma sits on the north coast of Lake Kivu and comes right up to the immigration point. Being at high altitude on the equator, the weather is perfect year-round. The lake is warm and enormous. It might as well be the ocean. The sun sets every night over the mountains to the west, which is a rebel-held jungle. Everybody suffers there. At night mineral resources are reportedly trafficked across the lake to Rwanda in exchange for guns to fuel the rebel activity. The beauty of Goma masks its great tragedy —this part of DRC hasn’t seen peace in 25 years. An estimated 5.4 million people have been killed since 1994, and 3 million remain displaced today.
At the U.N. Ebola Emergency Operations Center in Goma, there is a well-attended briefing each morning at 8:30 a.m. that serves to coordinate the work of several U.N. agencies, Congo’s Ministry of Health, U.S. government agencies and numerous international nongovernmental organizations. Everyone’s temperature is taken on the way into the U.N. compound, and everyone is administered two pumps of hand sanitizer. People greet each other with an elbow bump rather than a handshake, practicing the same infection-prevention techniques they spend their days promoting to communities.