Q&A from Congo: Facing Ebola and COVID-19

What is it like to be responsible for bringing health care to remote communities in Congo?

We caught up with Rebecca, who is part of a team not only working with pregnant mothers, malnourished children and chronic diseases; they are in a country affected by COVID-19 and Ebola.


Rebecca, can you introduce yourself and tell us about your role in Medair’s programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?

I am 32 years old, from Switzerland, and have been working with Medair since November 2017, currently as an Assistant Health Advisor. I assist the Country Health Advisor in supporting our teams and projects in the health and nutrition sectors, with technical input and quality monitoring of our activities. We are also responsible for the health of Medair’s in-country teams.


Why did you choose to work in the humanitarian sector, and in DRC in particular?

As a nurse, I had the conviction and motivation to work in the humanitarian field since the beginning of my studies. This has not changed over time. I already had my heart set on Africa, and it was with great pleasure that I accepted my first assignment with Medair in DRC. In terms of health, there are many needs everywhere, regardless of the country. But here in Congo, the needs are mainly in primary health care.

In Europe, we often don’t realise the importance of access to primary health care; we don’t think about it, because we can go to the doctor at the slightest problem. It is hard to imagine that our lives could be in danger because of a lack of access to antibiotics or because of problems related to malnutrition.

In this Ituri Province community, Medair was the first organisation to support the Iga-Barrière Health Facility. Ruth, along with nearly 150 women per month, gave birth to her child with the help of skilled health workers.


Can you describe a typical day for you?

I am mainly in the office and about every three months on a field mission to visit and support the work of one of our bases. At the office in Goma, my tasks will mainly be to support the development of the necessary technical tools, team monitoring meetings, internal and external coordination meetings (at the Cluster level or with the Ministry of Health). So this is done through emails, phone calls, video conferences, etc. When I go to visit a base, I stay there for two or three weeks to talk to the teams and see how the projects are going.


There is not much talk about the DRC in our media, it is often said to be a forgotten crisis. Can you tell us what the needs are in DRC and why Medair is there?

Yes, there has been a crisis for over 20 years, mainly caused by armed conflict. As a result, the population has been forced to move very frequently, which puts them in vulnerable situations. This vulnerability is manifested by a lack of access to quality health care and also exposure to malnutrition as people can no longer access their fields or face economic insecurity.

In addition, the country is facing numerous epidemics such as Ebola, COVID-19, measles, and cholera, among others. Medair is responding to the urgent needs of the population by supporting health facilities in the provision of quality health care-including nutrition-and water, hygiene, and sanitation.

Letisia works on Medair’s health team and records the temperature of a patient. “Coronavirus has slightly changed our ways. We have been fighting Ebola for a long time now, but it doesn’t mean that we are complacent with our measures with Coronavirus. At home, we set up a handwashing station, just like we have at the office, to make sure everyone washes their hands before entering the house.”


How has COVID-19 impacted the country and the services Medair provides?

The country has been impacted since March 2020 by the different phases of restriction and limitation of movement. The socio-economic consequences are catastrophic. Cases continue to increase, but fortunately there are very few severe cases at the moment, and we have not seen an overload in COVID-19 facilities. The challenges remain the weakness of the system in terms of screening (timeliness and accessibility) and the lack of personal protective equipment.

For Medair, movement restrictions slow down our work, and our staff have to deal with the psychological impact. They are already living in a context of crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic.


The DRC has been ravaged by Ebola. Recently new cases have emerged. Can you give us an update on this situation and the current impact on the country?

Indeed, since February there has been a resurgence (it is not a new epidemic, but the cases are linked to the 2018-2020 epidemic) with 11 confirmed cases at the moment. Since the beginning of March, there have been no new cases, which is encouraging. We are waiting for the 42 days (during which no new cases are identified) to officially declare this resurgence over. The containment of cases and strategies to contain the spread are encouraging, but we remain wary as the incubation period of Ebola is long. The large movement of people is a reality that increases the risk, and organisations and the government are monitoring the situation closely.


To read more about Medair’s work in Congo, meet Freddie, who survived Ebola. To join our team in DR Congo, subscribe to receive our latest vacancies!

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.