DRC's health system is 'on life support' as it fights several killer diseases, including COVID-19

The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have faced an onslaught of deadly diseases in recent years, including measles, polio, malaria and Ebola.
Now the central African nation, with a crumbling and overwhelmed health system, is facing another deadly enemy in the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is a very challenging environment where all of these multiple diseases are occurring at the same time," Dr Richard Mihigo, regional immunization and vaccines development coordinator for the World Health Organization (WHO), told CNN.

"We should not underestimate the magnitude of all these different outbreaks occurring at the same time in a country where the health system itself is very weak, and in some parts broken," he said.

In a recent report, UNICEF warned the country's healthcare system was "on life support" due to a lack of enough medical supplies, equipment and funds, and with nearly half of the nation's health facilities lacking basics such as clean water and sanitation. Many children are "at the mercy of killer diseases," UNICEF said.

"Our greatest fear remains the damage this coronavirus could do in a country like DRC," said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom. "Even as the flames of one outbreak begin to die down, we are fighting another fire front."

"As for the COVID-19 pandemic, we are worried, of course, but we hope that, if people stick to the government guidelines, and we are able to communicate those guidelines to the community, the outbreak will not spread," said Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, who heads the WHO Ebola vaccination program in DRC.

Nearly 350 cases of coronavirus and at least 25 deaths have so far been officially reported in the country, as of April 22, according to Johns Hopkins University — still relatively low numbers compared to other parts of the world.

That leaves a "window of opportunity" for medical teams to prepare and prevent higher numbers, Mihigo said. Currently, the majority of cases are focused in the capital Kinshasa, where authorities have implemented preventive measures, but social distancing in the densely populated city has proven difficult, he said. CNN

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