Canadian heads Ebola response in DRC

Courtesy: IFRC

For the second time in a matter of months, Ebola once again threatens lives in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With an outbreak of Ebola in DRC’s North Kivu declared in August, fast response is needed to contain the disease’s devastation on communities already weakened by armed conflict. Canadian aid worker Jamie LeSueur has led the Ebola response operation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

As the IFRC Emergency Operations Manager for Africa, Jamie shares his experiences from on the ground in one of the most challenging humanitarian operations.
Jamie LeSueur, IFRC Head of Operations for the Ebola response in DRC. Photo: IFRC/Corrie Butler
Jamie LeSueur, IFRC Head of Operations for the Ebola response in DRC. Photo: IFRC/Corrie Butler

 “Understandably, people are scared. It’s an incredibly tough time for them and we are trying to keep them safe while respecting local cultural norms,” says Jamie. “But it has been tough and of the major challenges we have encountered is community resistance or lack of understanding of what Ebola is. That has made it difficult to access some of the communities we want to support.”

This is the first time this part of DRC has faced an outbreak of Ebola, which partly explains why there are so many misconceptions about the disease, hence the mistrust towards health works and volunteers. On some occasions, this mistrust has led to confrontations. DRC Red Cross teams have faced incidents of violence and aggression from communities resisting safe and dignified burial protocols since the start of the Ebola outbreak in North Kivu.

Facing challenges

In the face of such challenges, community sensitization becomes a key priority for Jamie and his team.  “Our community engagement volunteers are working hard to sensitize the community, to help them better understand what Ebola is and how we can work together to make sure we contain it,” explains Jamie. This enhances community acceptance and reduces the potential for violence.

Red Cross volunteers come from these communities and are crucial to building trust with affected populations.Red Cross volunteers come from these communities and are crucial to building trust with affected populations. They understand the culture and the needs and are now supporting community awareness in affected areas. Red Cross societies are expanding Ebola preparedness activities in neighbouring countries in Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

An operation as this one is like a giant machine in which every piece plays its own important role. And despite the challenges, every part must function in perfect coordination.

As Jamie puts it: “We work hand in hand with local authorities, other humanitarian organizations and of course, with the communities. That is the only way we can be sure we will overcome this virus.”

Support is needed for success

An important factor in the success of an operation like this is the availability of funding. The deployment of Jamie was made possible thanks to the support from Norwegian Red Cross. In addition, thanks to support from the Government of Canada, the Canadian Red Cross has released funds, sent equipment from our field hospital as well as four aid workers to date to support the operation. Such financial support is what makes it possible to assemble teams of specialists and ultimately save lives.

The Red Cross Ebola response team in North Kivu consists of staff and volunteers from DRC Red Cross, IFRC and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). They focus on helping communities conduct safe and dignified burials for people believed to have died from the disease, giving communities the first line of defence with Ebola prevention and hygiene messages, and strengthening water and sanitation systems. They are also enhancing infection prevention and control measures in hospitals to promote the safety and security of health personnel and high-risk communities.

Healthcare in danger

A small number of Red Cross volunteers have faced resistance and even been attacked while carrying out their duties as part of the Ebola response. We encourage Canadians to learn more about the Health Care in Danger project to raise awareness and address the issue of violence against health care workers and the patients they are treating.

See more behind the scenes of a complex operation

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