PC(USA) mission co-worker has been present since first outbreak
August 14, 2017
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has battled Ebola virus breakouts more than any other country in the world, with eight of the 25 global outbreaks recorded there. Since the first outbreak in 1995, Presbyterian mission co-worker Larry Sthreshley has worked on the front lines of the fight to crush the deadly epidemic and save lives.
In addition to serving as a mission co-worker for more than 20 years in the DRC, Sthreshley is the current country director for IMA World Health there. He is the author of a widely circulated IMA report on containing Ebola outbreaks in the DRC.
For Sthreshley it began on Saturday, April 29, 1995, when he received a radio call from the Baptist hospital of Vanga reporting several deaths from what seemed to be a contagious disease in the neighboring town of Kikwit. The hospital requested urgent barrier materials to protect its workers. They reached out to him knowing his team had experience moving emergency drugs and supplies throughout the country. Knowing what groups had funds for such emergencies, he was able to send the needed materials on a mission aviation flight. This was the first response from any organization to the emerging Ebola virus.
Sthreshley was concerned about the potential for a large-scale epidemic and contacted the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. The CDC sent a 40-page fax of the most likely possibilities.
On Monday, May 1, Sthreshley was sitting at the first general meeting on the outbreak, called by the DRC’s government. He said the discussion was chaotic and people were beginning to panic. The head of the European Union approached Sthreshley and asked if they could jointly offer logistical services to the government to provide a more orderly response. Because of the quick response and coordinated efforts, the epidemic was declared over with 317 total cases with a death rate of 88 percent.
There would be seven more outbreaks in the DRC, the most recent in April of this year.
In his report for IMA, Sthreshley wrote, “Prior to the first Ebola outbreaks in DRC, Congo looked like a post conflict country, with a weak health care system and a depleted infrastructure: A situation ripe for a rampant epidemic. Despite these challenges, all seven outbreaks were controlled relatively quickly in comparison to other Ebola outbreaks in Africa.”
In the same report, on behalf of IMA, Sthreshley’s Ebola experiences provide several lessons to both the DRC and other countries hoping to better prepare to respond to epidemics like Ebola. Recommendations include strengthening health systems to better respond to epidemics through targeted workforce training, building a proactive supply chain, strengthening health information systems, assessing health system breakdowns during and after the epidemic and effectively and proactively engaging faith-based health facilities, houses of worship and networks.
“There have been more outbreaks of Ebola in Congo than any other country so we always work under the assumption that it will come again, and prepare the health facilities we assist to ready for it,” he said.
Both Sthreshley and his wife, Inge, grew up as children of missionaries in the Congo. His parents were Presbyterian missionaries who served in the two Kasaii provinces in the south-central region. Her parents were Methodist missionaries who served in Katanga province in the far southeastern section of the country.
Sthreshley’s long experience in the Congo, as well as his academic training, makes him a good choice for protecting the public health in the DRC. 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.
The Sthreshleys have two children, Lisa and Michael. Lisa was born at the Presbyterian-supported Good Shepherd Hospital in the Congo.
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Ebola
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
God of all creation, we thank you for all the ways you shelter and encourage us during the storms of life. As we seek to restore what has been broken in our world, restore us in faith and purpose. Help us to be your hands and feet and to witness to the love you give us through your Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.