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DRC Ebola death toll hits 2,000 but attitude bigger challenge than treatment

At least 2,000 people have been killed in the ongoing outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as the total number…

At least 2,000 people have been killed in the ongoing outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as the total number of cases on record reaches 3,000.

But the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says changing behaviours toward the disease is a bigger challenge than treating it.

It has warned building trust and understand in communities affected by the outbreak is as important as using available vaccine against the virus.

Two more effective treatments have been recently confirmed.

“The importance of these new treatments – and the continued roll out of vaccines – are not to be underestimated. But alone they are not enough,” said Dr Emanuele Capobianco, IFRC’s director of health and care, in a statement.

“Now is the time to double down on efforts to engage at-risk communities. For the treatments to work, people need to trust them and the medical staff who administer them. This will take time, resources and a lot of hard work.”

Many ebola patients delay or avoid going to health facilities because of distrust.

Their reluctance reduces the chances they will survive, even when they get the newest treatments available.

It also increases the risk of their spreading the virus to family members and other carers.

Nearly four in 10 alerts the Red Cross receives to bury a loved one comes from a death at home.

“We are asking people to leave the safety of their homes when they fall sick to go to an isolated cell in an Ebola treatment centres where their lives are in the hands of complete strangers,” Capobianco said.

“We are asking communities to change the way they care for the sick and the dead in ways that go against their traditions. And we are doing all this in communities that have learned to distrust outsiders following decades of violence and unrest.

“This is our biggest challenge. It is a behavioural challenge, not a medical one. And unfortunately, there is no magic pill to change behaviours.”

Two new treatments that are hailed as an effective cure against Ebola are currently being administered in Ebola treatment centres all over North Kivu and Ituri.

IFRC believes that if people understand that the treatment can save lives and can reduce the risk of transmission to their loved ones, they are more likely to seek health care early.

Officials are having to carry out at least 20 “safe and dignified” burials a day.

Volunteers and other burial teams have responded to more than 11,000 safe and dignified burial requests across North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

IFRC is appealing for about 43 million Swiss francs to continue safe and dignified burials and to support 15.5 million people with community outreach, prevention, and preparedness measures. So far, just over half of the amount needed has been received.

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