Ebola Outbreak in Congo—a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
The Crosier Listening Center is asking for help
My name is Fr. Hubert Kavusa, osc. I am a Crosier—born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Belgian Congo and then Zaire until 1997.
As large as Western Europe, Congo is the second largest country in Africa. It’s one-fourth the size of the United States. With its population of 80 million people, Congo is one of the most important countries in Africa. In addition, it is an extremely rich country with a superabundance of natural resources like diamonds, gold, silver, copper, oil, water and forest. Congo has the second largest rainforest and the second largest river in the world. We also have precious minerals like Coltan, short for columbite-tentalites, used for portable telephones, personal computers, automotive electronics and cameras; and cobalt, an essential component in rechargeable lithium –ion batteries for electric cars. Congo has about 50% of known global cobalt reserves. It is a place seemingly blessed with its invaluable natural wealth, yet it is consistently rated the lowest on the United Nations Human Development Index.
In eastern Congo, where the Crosier Fathers and Brothers live and serve, millions of people remain displaced from their homes due to political and ethnic conflict. As a result, a large majority of the Congolese population is not capable of meeting their basic needs such as food, healthcare, education and decent housing. Nearly 70% of the Congolese people live below poverty level, subsisting on less than $2 a day.
As if war and poverty weren’t enough, that same region is now undergoing a deadly Ebola outbreak. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare but severe, often fatal illness in humans. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals, and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. The average EVD case fatality rate is 50%—the fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
This is the 10th Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976. Since August 2018, over 2,500 people have been infected by the deadly virus, with nearly 1,800 reported deaths. On July 17, 2019, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in Congo to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. A notice was posted at an entry point in Beni last November. Everyone has to observe the World Health Organization's hygienic rules to stop Ebola from continuing to spread.
On July 22, I received word from Fr. Joseph Bwirabwahali, osc, director of the Crosier Listening Center, describing the disastrous situation created by Ebola in eastern Congo. He wrote, “Fr. Hubert, the Ebola epidemic is not just a physical illness. The people around us are deeply affected in their mental health. When one person dies from this contagious disease, all those who have had a physical contact with them are probable cases. They try to hide or run away from Ebola first responders. This is why the epidemic is spreading quickly. Ebola is a major threat which is negatively impacting the mental health of whole villages. Since August 2018, the number of patients at the Listen Center has almost doubled. We are overwhelmed, but still determined to continue to serve our desperate population. We need your help as we work to touch suffering with hope.”
For more than two decades, Congo has been undergoing the world’s bloodiest war since World War II. In this war, nearly six million people have died, millions more have been displaced and several million women and girls have been violated. The Crosier Listening Center was established in 2007 as a response to this humanitarian crisis. Since then, thousands of people seeking mental and spiritual healing have received psychological and pastoral help.
We Crosiers are proud of our positive impact in Congo through our ministries, especially the Listening Center and Holy Cross College in Mulo. The most telling example is Miss
Kapitula Rachine. She studied clinical psychology at Holy Cross College thanks to the generosity of one of our benefactors in Cleveland, Ohio. Today, Rachine is saving lives. She is working for WHO to provide psychological help to survivors of Ebola and families who have lost their loved ones to it.
I met Rachine last December and I asked her why she thought her work as psychologist was worthwhile in battling the Ebola outbreak. She replied, “Even the most experienced doctors recognize that they cannot successfully do their job unless psychologists successfully do theirs first. For many people, Ebola is another word for death. We need psychologists to help people understand that Ebola is a preventable and curable illness. Doctors, nurses and psychologists need to work together to defeat Ebola.” Like Rachine, many other psychologists who graduated from Holy Cross College are now working with WHO in Butembo and Beni, the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo.
Before the outbreak, the average number of patients received at the listening center was as many as 400 patients per month, mostly victims of war from four provinces: North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tshopo. Today, because of the deadly and threatening Ebola epidemic, the number of patients has almost doubled. The center wasn’t prepared for such an event. Furthermore, most of the people seeking help at the listening center are poor. Would you consider helping us carry out our mission in Congo? We are grateful for generosity.
May God bless you and may your work bear much fruit for the glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of the world.