Containing Ebola

A PC(USA) mission letter from Congo

December 1, 2014

KINSHASA

It was 2007 and Ebola had just been confirmed at the town of Luebo. 

Larry was coordinating for a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) team to get set up on the ground at Luebo Presbyterian Hospital to help contain the Ebola outbreak. Two CDC folks were already in Kinshasa and more of the team would be arriving in the next two days. 

The team would need a place to stay at Luebo. An old mission home was available, but it would take a lot of work to get it ready. Larry called me, “Inge, could you and Katherine go shopping tomorrow and buy everything needed to set up a “guesthouse” for a maximum of 16 people and food for one week?” 

If I was going to be shopping the next day to set up house for 16 people, I needed to work on a major shopping list. I made the initial list and then walked through my own house to see what was absolutely essential in each room. 

Early the next morning my friend Katherine Niles and I picked up the $10,000 for the shopping trip. We each put $1,000 into our purses and $4,000 into the bottom of one of our shoes. Shopping with credit or debit cards was not an option and carrying around that much money in a purse was a risk.

We compared and finalized lists and hit the ground. David Law, another missionary, was buying all the tools and materials to work on the house itself, the plumbing, generator, lights, screening for windows, etc.  

By late afternoon we got back to the Methodist Presbyterian Hostel (MPH) Guesthouse and deposited everything down one of the large hallways. After a break for supper, we worked into the night, packing everything up in boxes with the help of folks staying at the MPH Guesthouse.

Each box needed to be prioritized, labeled, and the weight written on the box, so it would all be ready to ship to Luebo with MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship). MAF would be flying David and the supplies up the next day and making flights throughout the next week. By the time we were finished we were all exhausted.

The CDC team thought it would take three months to stop the epidemic at Luebo. Together with the Congolese staff and MSF (in English — Doctors Without Borders), they were able to shut it down in six weeks.

I knew at the time the collaborative effort we were all involved in was important and urgent.  But I have to admit, it has not been until recently in reading the headlines of the extent of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that I have come to grasp the importance of rapid action and a thorough containment strategy. In places with limited material  and financial resources, it is easy for the Ebola virus to get the upper hand and then containment becomes very difficult and very expensive — not to mention the loss of lives.

In August of this year there was another outbreak of Ebola here in Congo, near the town of Boende. It is unrelated to the epidemic in West Africa. Needless to say, health officials have been all over this outbreak. As of this writing, there have been no new cases and containment looks hopeful.  

One of the reasons the 2007 Ebola outbreak was contained so quickly was that protective materials were already in place. Months before Ebola broke out, Larry had shipped kits of protective gear from Project Cure to all the Presbyterian hospitals, including the Luebo and Bulape hospitals. When a man infected with the Ebola virus showed up at the Bulape hospital, the doctor and nurses had the protective gear they needed to care for the patient and there was no transmission of the virus to the medical staff. 

In light of past experiences with Ebola outbreaks here in Congo and with the extent of the epidemic in West Africa, this past month Larry has been working on getting 200 kits of protective gear through Project Cure to key mission hospitals and those assisted through the Accès de Soins de Santé Primaire (ASSP), translated as Access to Primary Health Care Project. 

The Equateur and Kasai provinces are considered high-risk areas, so kits will be placed in 38 hospitals in those regions. Kits will also be pre-positioned in Kisangani (Oriental Province) and Kindu (Maniema Province) and here in Kinshasa. 

In addition, as funding comes in, medical staff will also be trained in detecting Ebola, getting samples safely to an appropriate lab, treating infected patients, tracking contacts in the community, and how to protect staff.  

If you would like to give to this preventative effort for protective kits and training for health care providers in Congo and West Africa to respond to Ebola, donations can be made through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support. Through your support over the years, you have helped bring medical care to thousands of people here in Congo and at some very critical times. We ask for your continued prayers and financial gifts for our sending and support. 

Please pray for those on the frontlines of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and here in Congo and also those who are ill from this virus. Pray that God will provide them with exactly what they need as they combat this virus. 

Larry and Inge Sthreshley are mission co-workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are serving at the invitation of Presbyterian Community of Congo (CPC) and the Presbyterian Community of Kinshasa (CPK); seconded to IMA World Health (Larry); and with the Methodist Presbyterian Hostel (Inge).

To visit the web pages of all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, visit Mission Connections.