After the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Red Cross launched an comprehensive relief operation to respond to the dangerous disease. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) supported the Congolese Red Cross by sending international experts to train the local hospital staff in dealing with highly infectious patients, inform the population about preventive measures and train the local Red Cross helpers. Isabel Diener, a 31-year-old Paramedic from Cologne, reports on her experiences.
June 20th: Congo calling…
My Sri Lanka journey – where I trained to be a surgeon – just behind me, I spent 48 beautiful hours in Cologne to catch a train to Berlin. For the Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the big aid organisations sent staff to help – I join a team of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) for four weeks.
With the visa for our Red Cross Team and a briefing at German Red Cross Headquarters in Berlin we leave for the airport in the middle of the night – with two huge boxes of personal protection equipment. Via Istanbul (where unfortunately time is too short to leave the airport,) we fly to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We spend two days in this huge, exciting city to be briefed at the national Red Cross Headquarters and pay a visit to the German Ambassador. Then we leave at 4:00 a. m. for the cargo terminal to take a flight to Mbandaka, a provincial capital of over 3 million inhabitants, where there were several reported cases of Ebola.
We are welcomed by the Branch President as well as the Regional Secretary and receive an update on all Red Cross operations on the ground. The medical facilities are right by the Congo River, which is so beautiful that we call the house „Maison Bellevue“.
June 23rd: Building with Bamboo
One of our various tasks up here in Mbandaka is to set up isolation units and triage facilities at health centers and hospitals. I ‚inherited‘ this job on very short notice from my colleague, who has to leave to Bikoro for an assessment.
Bob the Builder mode activated – keen to work with new materials! Maurice and Freddie, two very experienced local Red Cross volunteers, and I go to the Centre Santé Bakanja. Together with the deputy head nurse, Monsieur Henry, we choose a space close to the entrance and get started. Five sweaty, ant-bitey hours later, we have constructed an isolation unit from bamboo, lianas and tarpaulin – and I know a lot of ‚construction site French‘, now. Tired, dirty but happy, we finally return to the camp.
June 26th: Teach a (wo)man how to fish…
The last confirmed Ebola case in Mbandaka was over two weeks ago. Now it’s important to stay vigilant and keep reinforcing the surveillance and protection measures.
Every day we train doctors, nurses, midwifes and hygienists. Two of our Congolese doctors, Doudou and Benjamin, are really on top of things and also help with Lingala, which many local people understand better than French. With our practical exercises, they conduct triage, identify suspect cases and protect the patients as well as themselves from transmission. This will remain an important measure even after Ebola is defeated.
We also show up at the health centres unanounced to find out what works well and what are the challenges. We learn about people’s daily routine in the health sector and thus are able to customize our trainings for each facility.
July 2nd: Chlorine Class
This week we reached the 1.000! 1.006 local health staff in our zone joined our trainings and are now well prepared to protect themselves and their patients.
Our focus as IPC delegates (Infection Prevention and Control) are the cleaning staff and janitors. Their work is so essential for the whole system. As many of them barely can read or write, and only speak Lingala, we designed a very practical training using lots of symbols. Our colleague Dr. Doudou explains our topics in the local language and also teaches us some Lingala vocabulary. Chlorine, essential in all of my missions, is omnipresent, of course.
Chlorine kills Ebola viruses and it is important that the personnel spray each other with chlorine before putting the protective suits off. This process of dressing and ablating is pretty much the most important thing to protect yourself from infection.
Another important part of our training is the appreciation of the work done by our colleagues in the hospitals – sometimes under most demanding conditions. Especially the cleaners and janitors visibly get boosted by that and they are extra-proud of their certificates.
Text and photos: Isabel Diener /GRC
Isabel Diener is a medical student and paramedic at the German Red cross in Cologne. Since early childhood she wanted to be a humanitarian assistant and started as a 13-year-old in the school medical service. She worked for GRC in Uganda, among other places, where she helped to provide drinking water for South Sudanese refugees and local villagers.