Outbreaks Still Plague Congolese, Missionaries Offer Help

GEMENA, DR CONGO (May 11, 2011) – Fighting diseases that have largely been wiped out in developed countries continues to be a focus of Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries here.

Photo courtesy of Marta Klein

Marta Klein, a Covenant short-term missionary physician’s assistant, recently accompanied a government team vaccinating children in the Ubangi-Mongala region, where there was a polio outbreak earlier in the year.

Following the outbreak, the government realized that record-keeping had been deficient and many children had not been vaccinated. As a result, the government team is going to every house and vaccinating every child under the age of five.

According to Klein, each home visit was done quickly. The team already had conducted a census that identified where the children lived.

After the visit, the team noted which children were vaccinated and made a chalk mark on the door of each house, indicating how many kids had been treated there.

Photo courtesy of Marta Klein

One way to determine whether a child is more than five years old is if the child can reach one arm over the top of their head and touch the opposite ear, Klein said. She added that the method is not foolproof, however, as very malnourished kids have stunted growth.

Typhoid cases among children also rose rapidly over the past several weeks due to a delay in the rainy season, said missionary Pete Ekstrand, who added that the disease had not yet reached an epidemic.

Typhoid is a disease caused by drinking contaminated water, and the depleting supply actually has exacerbated to the problem, Ekstrand said. People have to walk further to get water, and it is not as clean.

“Here at Bokonzo the gravity-fed water system is daily running out by late morning or earlier,” Ekstrand said.

“The level in the spring 1.5 miles away has dropped,” he said. “Through the day we get water sporadically as it comes out of the spring. Later in the evening we’ll start to get some pressure back as the demand has dropped and the level in the distribution tank starts to rise.”

The rainy season should already have started, and the delay also has negatively impacted farming, said Ekstrand. A little more than an inch of rain finally fell over the course of four hours on Monday.

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