An IRC survey found Ebola-impacted communities are facing deteriorating mental health, reduced access to healthcare, increased violence against women and girls and major income losses. These findings showcase the widespread impacts of disease outbreaks on crisis-affected populations and the need for aid agencies and donors to address these impacts in the COVID-19 response.
Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), June 23, 2020 – After almost two years, the Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC has finally come to an end, having claimed 2,280 lives among 3,463 cases. However, the DRC is now facing a deteriorating humanitarian crisis amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of people in need in the Ebola-affected provinces has grown more than 250% since the start of the Ebola outbreak, from 1.2 to 4.3 million people. The outbreak had a significant impact on health for the region, making it more difficult for pregnant women to get adequate healthcare. In fact, more people died from the measles than from Ebola during the outbreak. An International Rescue Committee (IRC) survey of Ebola-affected communities found that people are facing economic devastation and huge increases in violence, especially women and girls. In addition to COVID-19 response, health and sanitation programming, the IRC is calling for a major increase in funding for economic recovery and protection to prevent violence against women and girls.
Borry Jatta, Ebola Response Director at the International Rescue Committee, said, “We are proud to have contributed to a successful response to end the Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, but we are alarmed by the increased vulnerability of people living in affected territories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. DRC is dealing with a compounded emergency, including a new Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka as well as outbreaks of cholera and measles, which continue to cost thousands of lives. Initial research indicates that COVID-19, which continues to spread with nearly 6,000 cases, could compound these devastating consequences for the most vulnerable populations.”
“The people of eastern DRC have been living in a humanitarian crisis for decades, with nearly 16 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, more than half of them children. More than 15 million people are facing food insecurity, and more than 5.5 million people have been displaced. The direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 will affect close to 3 million additional people, bringing the total number of people in need to more than 19 million. It is crucial that lessons are learned and applied from the recent outbreak, and that we are mindful of both the immediate impacts of disease and the indirect impacts outbreaks have on livelihoods, safety, and health, especially for those in humanitarian settings. Those surveyed reported deteriorating mental health, reduced access to healthcare and major income losses. Recovery will need more than interventions aimed at improving access to hygiene and health. We also need an increase in economic recovery, protection for women and girls, mental health support and community engagement.
“The IRC is adapting our programs to continue to provide life-saving aid during the coronavirus pandemic. The international community, agencies on the ground and the government must increase support to control these disease outbreaks, as well as continue to reach those in urgent need of humanitarian assistance beyond the outbreak. With increased funding and support, the DRC government, the IRC, and our partners, can scale up mitigation efforts to tackle all outbreaks, and deliver life-saving aid to those who need it most.”
The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.
The IRC has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996 responding to the humanitarian crisis in the east. It has since evolved into one of the largest providers of humanitarian assistance and post-conflict development, with life-saving programming in health, economic recovery, women’s and children’s protection, and livelihoods.