Ebola: As death toll approaches 2,000, vaccines, treatment and behaviour change equally important

Press release

Nairobi/Geneva 27 August 2019—The availability of an effective vaccine against Ebola and the recent confirmation of two effective treatments do not negate the importance of building trust and understanding in communities affected by the outbreak, warns the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

This warning comes as the death toll for the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) approaches 2,000 and as the total number of cases reaches 3,000.

Dr Emanuele Capobianco, IFRC’s Director of Health and Care said:

“The importance of these new treatments – and the continued roll out of vaccines – are not to be underestimated. But alone they are not enough. Now is the time to double down on efforts to engage at-risk communities. For the treatments to work, people need to trust them and the medical staff who administer them. This will take time, resources and a lot of hard work.”

Continued high levels of distrust mean that many Ebola patients are delaying or avoiding going to health facilities. This reluctance significantly decreases their chance of survival, even with access to the newest treatments. It also dramatically increases the risk that the virus will spread to family members and other care givers. More than 42 per cent of alerts that Red Cross receives to bury a loved one are coming from a death at home.

IFRC’s Capobianco said:

“We are asking people to leave the safety of their homes when they fall sick to go to an isolated cell in an Ebola treatment centres where their lives are in the hands of complete strangers. We are asking communities to change the way they care for the sick and the dead in ways that go against their traditions. And we are doing all this in communities that have learned to distrust outsiders following decades of violence and unrest.

“This is our biggest challenge. It is a behavioural challenge, not a medical one. And unfortunately, there is no magic pill to change behaviours.”

Two new treatments that are hailed as an effective cure against Ebola are currently being administered in Ebola treatment centres all over North Kivu and Ituri. IFRC believes that if people understand that the treatment can save lives and can reduce the risk of transmission to their loved ones, they are more likely to seek health care early.

In addition to community outreach and engagement, Red Cross volunteers continue to carry out around 20 safe and dignified burials every day. Volunteers and other burial teams have responded to more than 11,000 safe and dignified burial requests across North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

IFRC is appealing for about 43 million Swiss francs to continue safe and dignified burials and to support 15.5 million people with community outreach, prevention, and preparedness measures. So far, just over half of the amount needed has been received.

For more information contact:

In Nairobi: Euloge Ishimwe, +254 7831 688 613, euloge.ishimwe@ifrc.org

In Geneva: Laura Ngo-Fontaine, +41 79 570 4418, laura.ngofontaine@ifrc.org

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