THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Testimonies from Republic of the Congo

Posted on 14 May 2020

Categories: COVID-19

Dr. Modibo Togora
Medical Coordinator, TSF
Health assistance program for refugees in Brazzaville
Republic of the Congo


There is a false sense of security here when it comes to COVID-19 because Africa still doesn’t seem to be very affected. Some believe the virus can’t survive the heat.
However, poverty forces people to live day to day in the informal sector. Applying containment measures is difficult when your livelihood depends on getting out there each day, and while public transportation is halted, some have to walk tens of kilometres to the market to feed their families.
My own family has been carefully applying containment measures, though my work regularly takes me to the Plateaux region to respond to medical emergencies and support the integrated health centre’s team. Being a doctor is quite a commitment, but it brings me fulfillment and a sense of purpose.
The general spirit is not one of despair. We hope that our plea for help will translate into additional resources to train staff and provide health centres with the equipment and inputs needed to prevent COVID-19 and fight against the disease.
Nevertheless, we face many challenges, including strengthening and protecting medical personnel. Two false alarms, one in Impfondo and the other in Brazzaville, have made me realize how important it is that staff be adequately prepared to avoid panic situations. Flawed health systems in Africa, and especially in the Congo, have medical personnel worried and stressed out.
Since products we normally use are backordered and prices have skyrocketed, we are now turning to local sources.
For the time being, we are unable to run biological diagnostic testing or to manage patients. Suspected cases are thus referred to state-designated management centres.
Isolation locations have been identified, but they need to be fitted with equipment, running water and electricity. The entire response mechanism to COVID-19 cases needs to be developed.
We also need to enhance communications to promote compliance with barrier measures by a population that has not yet recognized the seriousness of the situation.

Dr. Grâce Mabiala
Clinician, TSF
Health assistance program for refugees in Bétou
Republic of the Congo

As a healthcare professional whose job is considered essential, I am not subjected to containment measures. This has made me realize that many lives are undoubtedly dependent on my dedication and diligence, which makes me very proud.
But healthcare workers are worried. Here in Bétou, we have the skills but we don’t have the means to treat patients. In other words, we can accurately diagnose diseases, but we can’t treat them. For example, we don’t have the appropriate resuscitative equipment to keep stroke victims alive for an extended period of time, and since these patients can’t survive a 1200 km medical evacuation, all we can do is watch them die, helpless.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what will happen if COVID-19 spreads in Bétou. We will be overwhelmed because of the shortage of staff and means, which are already insufficient in normal circumstances.
We lack personal protective equipment for patients and staff. We don’t have enough medicine. We don’t have tests to diagnose COVID-19. There aren’t enough isolation and quarantine locations.
The population has a tendency to minimize the importance of the pandemic because of the low rate of infection nationwide and the absence of confirmed cases in Bétou. As a result, our strategy focuses on prevention through increased awareness and application of key barrier and containment measures.
Our main challenge is a cultural one. People here live in close quarters. Families of patients who are admitted to the hospital will inevitably visit their loved ones, including to feed them. If death strikes, friends will also visit the bereaved family and will even wash the body in spite of the risks.
Furthermore, the people of Bétou practically all work in the informal sector, just getting by day to day, which inevitably affects containment measures.

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