Stopping the spread of Ebola in Congo challenging on many fronts
by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing the second-largest Ebola outbreak ever, but that’s not what killed Dr. Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung.
He died trying to help others.
Dr. Kiboung was an epidemiologist from Cameroon sent by the World Health Organization to Butembo in Eastern Congo near the border of Uganda, one of the epicenters of the Ebola hot zone. Last Friday, armed bandits burst into his staff meeting, took cell phones and other valuables from those in the room — and then shot the doctor as they were leaving.
Although robbery is the apparent motive, they did not have to kill the doctor to escape. The fact is that many in the DRC believe that health care workers have brought the virus into their country. Others believe that it’s just a ruse to make money. Still others believe it is an invention by foreign visitors to decimate the local population.
Health care workers in Congo face harassment, threats and death. This was the fourth attack on an Ebola treatment facility. Those conditions make it difficult to keep the virus under control. Last week there were over 100 new infections reported, which is the worst outbreak since August 2018, when 11,000 people died. Thus far there have been 843 deaths of the 1300 cases identified in the latest outbreak.
Just the mention of the Ebola virus sends chills down most people’s spines. Formerly known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, it has a range of symptoms including fever, headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and bleeding, usually from the eyes.
Mission co-worker Larry Sthreshley has been instrumental in the response to several Ebola epidemics since 1995. Although he didn’t know Dr. Kiboung, he knows well the struggle health care workers face battling the disease. In addition to serving more than 30 years in DRC, Sthreshley is the current country director for IMA World Health there. The hospital where the doctor died is an IMA-supported hospital.
“Through PCUSA’s collaboration with IMA (Interchurch Medical Assistance), we are involved in responding to the Ebola crisis is 75 health facilities. With the increase in attacks on health facilities, it is getting very difficult to effectively address the crisis,” said Sthreshley. “Please pray for the safety of those on the front lines of this effort and for a breakthrough for how we can convince the community to work with us to resolve this crisis.”
Both Sthreshley and his wife Inge grew up as children of missionaries in Congo. His parents were Presbyterian missionaries who served in the two Kasaii provinces in the south-central region and her parents were Methodist missionaries who served in Katanga province in the far southeastern section of the country.
He holds a doctorate in international health systems management from Tulane University, a master’s degree in public health from UCLA, and an undergraduate degree in public health from the University of North Carolina.
Jeff Boyd is World Mission’s regional liaison for Central Africa and lives in Congo with his wife and co-mission co-worker Christi.
“While this Ebola outbreak does not present an immediate threat to our historic Presbyterian partners who are located in other parts of the country, members of our larger ecumenical family are facing this as yet another deadly threat to the well-being of their communities,” he said. “It is amidst decades-long conflict, attacks by a host of competing militias, and extreme economic hardship, that our sisters and brothers in faith witness by word and deed to the love of God — sometimes, to the risk of their own lives.”
Dr. Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung leaves behind a wife and four young children.
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