The Slow Retreat of Ebola

Rachel Chimits

The spread of deadly Ebola in Africa has terrified thousands for over a year, but we finally have a light at the end of the tunnel.

In May, our partners reported about the desperate situation in the D. R. Congo as Ebola swept through several major cities in the north-east province.

As the death toll mounted through June and frightened people began attempting to flee into Uganda and Rwanda, our director of sub-Saharan Africa flew over to meet with local partners who have been fighting to keep their churches and communities safe.

“The situation is catastrophic,” reported Noe, our partner and team hope expert in the Congo and Kenya, this last summer. “We need to continue to provide water stations to save lives because [our work] is about saving lives, and that is the possibility of the church in the community.”

At that time, catastrophic accurately described the situation he and others faced.

Divine Mercy and Hard Work

Through the summer months, around 120 new cases of Ebola were being discovered each week. This particular strain kills two-thirds of everyone infected, and those numbers only included those who were brought to health centers and recorded. Mistrust of UN workers was running rampant, and reports came in of health vehicles in Beni—the epicenter of the outbreak—being attacked and set on fire.

Meanwhile, Noe and other hope experts in the Congo worked behind the scenes with the Beni church and in seven other villages nearby to teach lessons on methods to prevent Ebola alongside the hope of the gospel.

They recently reported to us that the Ebola outbreaks have virtually disappeared in Beni and many of the villages nearby.

God’s mercy and their preventative work in Ugandan and Kenyan villages also seems to have averted any notable outbreaks in these areas as well. Only a few cases were reported, almost exclusively people who had already been infected and fled the Congo.

“We are thankful to God who is continuing to show us his love and mercy during the difficult times when we were working in this quarter, challenged by the Ebola virus and people’s insecurity,” Noe said, summarizing the work in October and the last few months.

“We are grateful as well to World Challenge for your spiritual, financial and technical support to the Beni church for the holistic ministry in this region.”

Preventative Work Continued

The Ebola outbreak is not completely gone, however. Hospitals and medical outposts are still reporting about 15 new cases a week, nothing like the 120 or more they were seeing this summer but still enough to cause unease.

Many of the new cases are cropping up in rural areas where unlawful mining is being done or where people illegally cross the border for work. Since these people are unlikely to receive education on the disease and even less likely to come into contact with medical professionals, the disease often spreads unchecked.

More alarming, a few new cases have popped up in Goma, a city right across the border from Rwanda. “About two miles away, the incongruously named Petit Barrière, connecting Goma and Gisenyi, Rwanda, is one of the busiest border crossings in the world” with somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 people crossing every day.

This November, Doctors Without Borders reported, “The province is also well-known for being an area of conflict for over 25 years, with more than 100 armed groups estimated to be active. Criminal activity, such as kidnappings, are relatively common and skirmishes between armed groups occur regularly across the whole area.

“Widespread violence has caused population displacement and made some areas in the region quite difficult to access.”

Determined to do all they can, Noe and the team are regularly traveling between churches and communities to continue teaching the gospel, reinforce hygiene training and also add nutrition and agriculture lessons. Better sanitation and stronger immune systems will help to protect people’s health should another outbreak happen.

Most importantly, though, they want people to have the security of knowing God has everything in his hands.