By Mirabelle Enaka Kima, IFRC
Bioma Julie is a young mother of two, she lives in the Massina I neighbourhood in Kinshasa. She was diagnosed some months back with yellow fever. Today, not only has she regained her health, but she is also well informed about the disease, thanks to the massive information dissemination and sensitization activities conducted by volunteers of the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo ( DRC). As part of the preventive immunization campaign launched in the country in August, Red Cross volunteers visited remote communities and went door-to door to raise awareness about yellow fever, encouraged families to get vaccinated, distributed flyers, put up posters and banners with important information about the disease and engaged in dialogues with people through social media channels.
Yellow fever outbreak was declared in DRC in March. The outbreak originated from neighbouring Angola and quickly spread to the DRC, affecting people in six of the country's provinces, including the capital city Kinshasa, where more than 7.7 million people have been vaccinated following the launch of a preventive vaccination campaign.
The first round of the vaccination campaign, which started in May until the first week of June, was carried out in the Massina I health zone, where many cases were registered.
"When the vaccination campaign started in May, I was pregnant and could not receive the vaccine. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, I was diagnosed with yellow fever and was taken to the N'dili health centre where I received treatment," said Bioma Julie.
"My unhappy experience was a lesson for the rest of my family on the dangers of the disease, if proper preventive measures are not taken.
When a Red Cross team visited us and provided detailed information and advice on how to protect ourselves from the disease, my whole family decided to go in for the vaccination including my hesitant husband," added Julie
The Red Cross of DRC mobilized 3600 volunteers to increase awareness on yellow fever among vulnerable communities and encourage them to get vaccinated.
"From the onset of the operation, our volunteers were going door-to-door visiting vulnerable families to talk to them about the risks of yellow fever, monitoring and identifying new cases in the communities, as well as explaining how to prevent vector-borne diseases," said Dr Balelia Wema Jean Faustin, health coordinator of the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Violette Lakulu is one of the most experienced Red Cross volunteer In the social mobilization team. She spent hours in the Massina I health zone, where she delivered awareness messages to households, at places of worship and markets.
"It was crucial for us to talk directly with people. We realized that many people did not know what yellow fever was all about. We also identified people with physical disabilities who needed assistance. Depending on the situation, we help to arrange transport for them to get to the vaccination sites or give their home address to the nearest vaccination centre so that they could get vaccinated through a house visit," said Violette.
Outbreak under control
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced recently that the yellow fever outbreak is now under control following the vaccination campaigns in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, no new cases have been recorded since 12 July.
As of 1 September, the number of people vaccinated in Kinshasa province exceeded the targeted number by 102 per cent, across the 32 targeted health zones.
"We are grateful to the Red Cross volunteers who have been able to mobilize 53 per cent of the population of Kinshasa during this reactive vaccination campaign. So far, the positive results are confirming the tremendous work done by Red Cross volunteers," said Dr Viviane Nzeusseu, IFRC health coordinator for Central Africa country cluster support team.
While the yellow fever outbreak is now under control, there are cholera and measles outbreaks in many areas of the country.
As part of the Red Cross response to the ongoing outbreaks, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal for 2.2 million Swiss francs to enable the Red Cross of DRC to deliver emergency health support, provide safe water, adequate sanitation and promote safe hygiene practices.
With technical support and coordination with other partners National Societies provided by the IFRC Central Africa office, the DRC Red Cross is preparing for the upcoming cholera and measles vaccination campaigns, which will be launched at the end of September, despite the recent civil unrest in Kinshasa.
The appeal is currently 55 per cent funded. "Funding gap remains a major concern as the country goes through a re-emergence of cholera, which has a high case fatality rate, in endemic and epidemic areas," said Dr Viviane Nzeusseu .