Vivienne Walz has returned to Canada after spending several months in Ngoma (Democratic Republic of the Congo) where she was a member of a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) team doing work related to the Ebola outbreak.
Walz returned to Canada several weeks ago in — you guessed it — the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic. She spent two weeks in self-isolation in her hometown of Vankleek Hill and spoke with The Review briefly about her work in Ngoma.
On August 1, 2018, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Ministry of Health declared an outbreak of Ebola. One year later, the outbreak was ongoing in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, areas where there are outbreaks of violence, armed conflict, and other unprecedented problems that complicate public health response activities and increase the risk of disease spread both within DRC and to neighboring countries, according to the CDC website. As of July 31, 2019, a total of 2,713 cases, including 148 in healthcare workers, and 1,813 deaths had been reported.
As cases of Ebola continued to increase in the eastern region of DRC, and travel-associated cases were reported in neighboring Uganda, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) on July 17, 2019 declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” (PHEIC).
And the CDC sent more than 200 experts in epidemiology, case management, infection prevention and control, laboratory science, border health measures, risk communication, community engagement, information technology, emergency management, and logistics to DRC, countries bordering the outbreak area, and World Health Organizatiion headquarters. An additional 294 CDC staff have supported the response from the agency’s Atlanta headquarters and CDC country offices in DRC and neighboring countries.
Walz worked with the Red Cross, recording community feedback. Given the North American propensity for gathering information online and through surveys, it might sound odd to hear that workers were going door to door to gather information and to dessiminate information about Ebola.
But Walz says it is a reliable way to gather information and that in recent weeks, the International Red Cross teams who visit had been communicating information about COVID-19, too.
Information about prevention, but also gaining acceptance about response intervention was a part of the community engagement efforts, she says.
Walz was supporting the analysis of the feedback, assembling the information in a database.
This was the main way to gather information from residents and convey key messages to people, Walz says.
Prior to her arrival in Ngoma, Walz was developing the messages.