Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) health promotion activity manager Sabrina Rubli leads a team responsible for reaching out to the community in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The team seeks to better understand what are the humanitarian needs in the region and to provide relevant health information and education. Here, Rubli reflects on how her work has changed with the arrival of the global coronavirus pandemic in DRC.
“Coronavirus is just another way for the government to kill us, since Ebola didn’t work.”
“All white people are infected with coronavirus.”
“This is just another way for nongovernmental organizations and the government to make money.”
“We can’t wash our hands. We have no water. We have no soap. How can we protect ourselves?”
“Can I catch coronavirus from riding a motorbike?”
“The virus doesn’t affect Africans, only Europeans.”
I write down all of the questions and thoughts in my notebook, and try to answer peoples’ concerns and questions as best I can. Any questions I can’t answer, I promise to find an answer and come back to them soon.
I am working in Goma as MSF’s health promotion activity manager, and my team and I are holding an information session for a group of volunteer community health workers. We are sitting in an empty classroom, perched on wooden benches—distancing ourselves as much as possible. It is the middle of March and COVID-19 has now arrived in DRC. People are filled with questions and concerns, and as the health promotion team, it is our job to engage with the community, provide them with accurate information, and, most importantly, to listen to them [and] hear their concerns.
The arrival of COVID-19 in DRC came just as the Ebola epidemic, which has killed 2,200 people since 2018, was on the verge of being declared over. This was before more cases emerged in the country on April 10. Many Congolese people, particularly those in the Ebola-affected areas, tell us the timing is suspicious—is COVID-19 just another disease created to kill them? Is this a political tactic? Is this just another way for nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] and the government to make money?