MSF Reinforces Response to DRC Ebola Outbreak

N'gadi Ikram


The first Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams arrived in Boende health zone, in the North-West of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ten days ago, and they were reinforced this week by the arrival of 17 specialists, including doctors, nurses, logisticians, pharmacists, and hygiene and sanitation experts. In the next few days, these teams will have as their primary mission the establishment of a treatment center for patients with symptoms of Ebola. They will also conduct outreach activities in the community.

A total of 13 tons of medical equipment has already been shipped to Boende, and another 15 tons will be shipped within the next few days. MSF is concerned, however, that there is no mobile lab service available yet.

The treatment center for Ebola patients will be set up in Lokolia, the epicenter of the epidemic in DRC. The center will be set up to prevent transmission of the disease. Jeroen Beijnsberger, a MSF medical coordinator, explains that the layout is based on a specific circuit designed to avoid any risk that the disease will escape to the outside. “Everything is strictly controlled. Whatever comes into the zone cannot leave, and this requires a substantial amount of logistical means,” says Beijnsberger.

A big concern right now is that the project does not yet have a mobile lab for Ebola testing. “We have made several contacts in the past few days to try and locate a mobile laboratory, but at present, no one has been able to help us,” says Beijnsberger. “This is a very serious problem for us.”

A mobile laboratory is needed to enable doctors to confirm or eliminate the presence of Ebola in the blood of suspected patients within a few hours; this allows patients who are not infected to quickly leave the treatment center and thereby avoid any risk of contamination.

Without this type of laboratory, suspected patients have to be kept in the treatment center for several days, with the end result being that the entire facility could potentially become gridlocked and overcrowded with a large number of patients. “We call upon all players to work together to quickly find a solution. This is now our priority,” he says.

Educational activities are also extremely important, and will begin right from the start. “We need everyone in the community to understand the importance of going to the treatment center as soon as symptoms appear. It’s crucial for patients and for their loved ones,” says Beijnsberger.  

The personalized medical treatment MSF aims to deliver can help a patient fight the virus and improve his or her chances of a cure. “Here, we provide medical care and medications, we rehydrate the patients, and we feed them,” says Beijnsberger. “It’s critical that the body be sufficiently strong in order to fight the virus.” It is also the only way to protect the patient’s family and close relatives from possible contamination. 

MSF experts provide in-house training in Brussels to MSF staff volunteering for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Because Ebola is highly contagious, the main priority is training health staff to reduce the risk of catching the disease while caring for patients. Staff treating patients suffering from the disease must wear personal protective equipment to prevent transmission. MSF is carrying in-house training for other NGO's
N'gadi Ikram