This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Storm response prepares Congolese churches for COVID-19

A March medical clinic organized by Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Church of Congo) proved to be a training ground for the looming challenge that confronts the Democratic Republic of Congo as COVID-19 assaults Kinshasa.

The need for medical care was urgent after a severe storm destroyed much of the city of Ndjoko Punda in November. The storm killed 16 people, and hundreds more died in the months that followed due to malaria and gastrointestinal disease.

Fernand Muvuma, a nurse from Ndjoko Punda, treats patients in the blue tarp shelters that housed the UMER clinic in March. — Joseph Nkongolo/MMN
Fernand Muvuma, a nurse from Ndjoko Punda, treats patients in the blue tarp shelters that housed the UMER clinic in March. — Joseph Nkongolo/MMN

Mennonite Mission Network partner Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission contributed $30,000 to help Congolese Mennonites purchase medical supplies and recruit personnel for the relief effort, called Urgent Mennonite Aid to combat Epidemics and assist Refugees.

The UMER medical team, headed by four Congolese Mennonite doctors, worked in blue-tarp shelters in two locations because the Ndjoko Punda hospital was destroyed. Set-up began March 2, and treatment continued through March 13.

UMER left the shelters, medicine and lab equipment for local medical staff to continue the work.

The two-week clinic treated 2,224 people, nearly half of them suffering from malaria. They also saw cases of diarrheal diseases, acute respiratory infections, typhoid fever and flu.

Ndjoko Punda originated in 1912 as the first station for Congo Inland Mission, predecessor of AIMM. Brick buildings that offered services to the residents for decades — the hospital, health centers, churches and schools — were destroyed during torrential winds and rain Nov. 22. More than 100 public buildings and 1,700 homes collapsed.

UMER administrator Joseph Nkongolo said they didn’t know it at the time, but it seems the two-week clinic was preparing them for a rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis. The country’s first case was confirmed March 10 in a person who arrived from France.

Nkongolo and head doctor Chuck Kamassa are organizing Mennonite Church of Congo’s medical response to COVID-19.

The conference sponsors radio broadcasts encouraging communities to practice good hygiene and physical distancing as much as possible where households often have 20 or more people.

“We hope to provide a rapid response like Doctors Without Borders where we can go to the hardest-hit communities,” Nkongolo said.

Nkongolo also helped with administration of the 2017 relief effort of nine European and North American Mennonite agencies after armed conflict displaced people in the Kasaï provinces, among them thousands of Congolese Mennonites. He continues to accompany displaced families as they rebuild lives through agriculture and hog-raising projects and in the construction of a school in Mukaya.

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