Christians help with assessment of an Ebola outbreak in Congo

By September 18, 2007

Congo-Kinshasa (MNN) — The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Measures are being taken to contain the spread of the deadly virus. Already, more than 150 people have died in the central province of Kasai Occidental.

Ebola is one of the deadliest pathogens, killing 50 to 80 percent of the people it infects. Because it is highly contagious, health officials in Congo are trying to quarantine anyone with symptoms, and there's an ongoing media campaign to educate villagers about the crisis. 1995 marked Congo's last major Ebola outbreak in Kikwit. Then it killed 250 people in an area about 250 miles west of the current outbreak. 

The movement of the people in the bush is complicating efforts to quarantine the infected, and that's causing alarm for medical authorities. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person or carrier (sometimes infected chimpanzees, gorillas and forest antelopes).

While blood tests are analyzed, the government in Congo is asking for more help in dealing with an outbreak that may rival the outbreak of 1995. Part of that help is coming in the form of determining how big the problem is.

Mission Aviation Fellowship's John Boyd says their Congo team is working with medical officials to estimate the scope of the epidemic. "The thought at the moment is that there are many, many more in the remote villages that are not making it to the hospital or a clinic, and they are simply dying in the remote villages. So at the end of this week, we should have a better idea of the size and scope of it and how we need to mobilize more resources."

MAF fills a strategic role in ministry by standing with and supporting Congolese churches, missionaries, and an increasing number of short-term mission teams. The team is committed to supporting the emerging inter-tribal Christian movement that is moving toward healing and reconciliation.

Other mission groups and humanitarian agencies utilize MAF services to help alleviate the suffering of those displaced by the instability of the DRC. To that end, they've earned a reputation of compassionate, evangelistic outreach.

However, Boyd says the Ebola crisis isn't a traditional means, but "that's where it dovetails very closely with who we are as a Christian ministry. We're prepared to go into this very intense area. The ministry side of it is simply being there to help the 'least of these' and then taking the opportunity to share the Gospel when that arises."

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