More needs to be done to engage communities facing infectious disease outbreaks in famine threatened countries in Africa as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where Ebola has recently resurfaced.

“Infectious diseases start and end in communities,” said Dr Julie Hall, in a press briefing for journalists accredited to the United Nations Office in Geneva where the 70th session of the World Health Assembly is taking place this week. “With the Ebola response in the West Africa outbreak, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies recognized how important it was to have the communities engaged from the beginning so that they could drive the response.”

The current Ebola outbreak, is centralized around the Likati Health Zone in very remote part of northern DRC. “The DRC has now responded to eight Ebola outbreaks,” said Dr Hall. “The national Red Cross has been involved in responding to all of those outbreaks and is already mobilizing support into that area.”

Volunteers of the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo meet with community members in Likati Health Zone. Photo: Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Volunteers of the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo meet with community members in Likati Health Zone. Photo: Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Nearly 50 Red Cross volunteers, who live and work in the area, are being deployed to support community-based surveillance, help identify and reach out to people who may have been exposed, provide psychosocial support to families and communities, and will serve as a critical link between authorities and international organizations on the one hand, and affected or vulnerable communities on the other.

Meanwhile across famine-threatened parts of Africa, millions of children facing malnutrition are dying of preventable diseases like cholera, measles and malaria. There is an urgency to reach communities early, especially those hardest to reach and who have the poorest access to health care. “Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers are scaling up their response in these countries to provide bednets, water and sanitation and support vaccination campaigns to prevent childhood diseases,” said Dr Hall.

Learn more about the Red Cross and Red Crescent response to hunger in East and Central Africa.

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