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German foreign minister demands Congo step up Ebola fight

  • September 05, 2019

After arriving in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by plane, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas immediately had his temperature taken — a precautionary measure amid the country’s Ebola outbreak. In just one year, the virus has claimed the lives of 2,000 people in the DRC. Maas met experts who briefed him on the current Ebola situation before meeting the country’s presidentFelix Tshisekedi, in the capital Kinshasa on Thursday, the final day of his four-day trip to Africa.

Ahead of his meeting, Maas made clear that he has high expectations of the country’s decision-makers: “It is up to the government and president to make sure that people’s expectations are met, security is improved, and that there continues to be a determined fight against Ebola.”

Before traveling to DRC, Maas visited Sudan

‘Most complex’ campaign to fight Ebola ever

Tshisekedi was voted into office in late 2018, ending almost two decades of rule by Joseph President Kabila. Many people in the DRC have placed high hopes in their new leader, as Maas learned during his various talks. But President Tshisekedi faces tremendous challenges: On top of the Ebola outbreak, three fourths of the populace live on less than two dollars a day and militias are wreaking havoc across the country.

In the eastern city of Goma, Maas met the UN’s emergency Ebola response coordinator, David Gressly. Gressly described the efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak as “the most complex ever,” naming the country’s political division, the spread of the virus into remote areas parts, and repeated militia attacks as reasons. Even healthcare facilities have been targeted, with 250 having been attacked since Tshisekedi came to power.

Health workers are hindered in their efforts to fight Ebola by the DRC’s poor infrastructure

DRC president taking flak

This is why Maas insisted that it is important not only to provide vaccinations and education about the virus, but also to make sure healthcare workers are safe. Maas expects Tshisekedi to reign in the country’s rival militias: “The central government must find a solution to this and most likely engage in dialogue, too,” he said.

Though President Tshisekedi only took office eight months ago, civil society actors have already complained that he is doing too little to help the country’s many regions. After all, while cities like Goma or Bukavu, which Maas visited on Wednesday, are reeling from the Ebola outbreak, rural areas in the DRC fare far worse still.

Opinion: Opinion: Ebola in Congo — incompetence, mistrust and greed

Poor medical infrastructure

On his trip, Maas also spoke to the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Goma, Ibrahima Sose. Sose knows the situation on the ground and described how poor the rural infrastructure is. He told the German foreign minister that medical treatments rarely meet professional standards, which is why the deadly Ebola virus continues to spread. Sometimes, “Someone will come in to be treated for malaria and contract Ebola — such situations are commonplace,” Sose told Maas. According to the WHO, each week there are 80 new Ebola cases.

Maas also wants to see MONUSCO, a UN mission in the Congo, extended. Its task is to stabilize the country’s fragile peace — a challenge that is connected to the fight against Ebola. He met with the head of the mission, Leila Zerrougui, who also does not want to see UN peacekeepers withdrawn.

Maas made it clear that he expects Tshisekedi to cooperate more closely with international organizations and to implement further reforms. Only then, the foreign minister said, could the DRC expect further assistance. The people of the DRC are desperate for improvements, he said.

“There are big challenges head, but the people have a lot of trust in the president,” Maas said. 

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