Virus Compatriots of Covid-19 in Congo

Ebola virus: an electron micrograph of an ebolavirus virion

I came back from the Lomami National Park a week ago and, checking the news, found Covid-19 spreading in Kinshasa, but it has not exploded.  Here’s the situation.

And there is still no sign of covid-19 in Kindu where I am now.  When John returned to Kisangani from the northern Lomami NP he reported the same: no sign.  We asked in medical centers in Kindu and Kisangani…no coronavirus patients, although the medical staff are very attentive for symptoms. 

John took pictures of the casket-maker’s wares lined up along the side of the road for sale:  That business has not yet picked up in Kisangani.   John has his eyes on the “green and yellow casket” which he thinks will be the first to go.

John is watching for changes in the speed of turnover of Kisangani casket-vendors’ wares.

We of course wonder if this moderate pace will continue long-term, then maybe dwindle, OR if the incidence graph is about to jump into a sharp incline and the virus jump, too, from city to city.

For clues we looked at how other virus epidemics were doing in DR Congo, and were shocked at how complacent we have been.

For all three viruses, rapid propagation and virulence assure tragedy.   Containment of the scale of tragedy is a struggle with poverty, poor infrastructure, and failed health systems.

EBOLA: The current epidemic is Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak and started in August 2018.  The virus was first identified in DR Congo near the Ebola river in the northeast in 1976.  Even now, with better protocols for treating patients, the current epidemic has a mortality rate of 66%.  Whole families and neighborhoods are lost.  New vaccines, while still experimental, were and are what allow the current epidemic to remain contained (part of eastern DR Congo only). Finally, we believe, the vaccines may soon allow an end to the epidemic.

The Kindu bushmeat market at Makengele on 27 March 2020. A bustling place.

Like Covid-19, Ebola is animal vectored. In the case of Ebola probably jumping to humans through hunting and preparation of bushmeat.

Unlike Covid-19, the human to human contagion is through contact with body fluids – blood, vomit – or clothes and surfaces contaminated by the fluids.  It spares no-one and kills more than half of those affected.

Hand washing bucket set-up to prevent Covid-19, here at the Makengele bushmeat market, and at essentially all public places.

MEASLES : The current epidemic in Congo is newer than the Ebola outbreak starting early in 2019, but it is the most devastating, fastest moving measles epidemic currently in the world. 

Like Covid-19 it spreads through the air, it is now in all 26 provinces of DR Congo mowing down the unvaccinated.   

Unlike Covid-19 it kills mainly the young.  According to MSF (Doctors without Borders), 73% of those dead were young children. World Health Organization (WHO) 25% of reported cases are under 5 years old.

A child with measles.

The devastation of measles was something we never knew growing up in a highly vaccinated, well nourished USA.

COVID-19: The third virus has been in Congo less than two months.  Unlike Measles and Ebola its impact is most murderous among the older as well as the weakened.  It came into the capital of Congo with flights of the wealthy and politicians from Europe. 

Faced with the reality of Covid-19 (no vaccine, no known treatment) and knowing the condition of Congo’s unequipped hospitals, poor infrastructure, urban and rural poverty, the government closed down most internal and external transport, locked down part of the capital, instituted hand washing and even tried to institute social distancing.

Social distancing at the bushmeat market in Kindu or any outdoor market is not yet achieved.

We are waiting to see what next week and next month and beyond will bring.

But the key to the difference in Congo’s amazingly successful containment of Ebola and its inability to rein in Measles … lies in foreign funding.

WHO’s Ebola Response Funding report is the following:

270 million dollars since August 2018 when the Ebola epidemic started.  

WHO is asking for another 20 million dollars this month to deal with a resurfacing of the virus, 6 new cases in the town of Beni (an infected person “disappeared” from a treatment center on the 23rd April and is still at large).

WHO’s newsletter reporting on DR Congo’s measles epidemic stated this:

27.6 million dollars have been mobilized; however, a further 40 million is needed.

(note:  most of the western world, where financial aid comes from, is vaccinated. It is apparently hard to feel measles is an important threat.)

Child in an MSF measles ward in the Ituri Province.

What will the world be able to donate to help DR Congo’s Coronavirus response?

  • when even the States struggle to get help from the USA federal government and
  • when the president of the USA has cut funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). –?

Today’s DR Congo news is that the Netherlands has voted to contribute 115 million dollars to help the poorest countries in the world with their Coronavirus response – that, of course, includes Congo.  It is logical – Covid-19 has no respect for sovereignty and will rush back from wherever it remains uncontrolled.   


  1. John P Sullivan
    Posted 2020-04-27 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    “World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 90% mortality for children under 5 years old.” You mean 90% of the deaths were children under 5 year old? The mortality rate of measles is only 0.2% for the general population worldwide.

  2. Jo Thompson
    Posted 2020-04-27 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    The transmission route for the virus that became COVID-19, as far as we currently know, is through spillover from a live reservoir host to at least one live animal amplifier species, and then eventually through antigenic shift and mutation, to humans. It apparently is transmitted from a living medium.

  3. BeccaBrackett
    Posted 2020-04-28 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    yes , the WHO site says 90% of the deaths are children under 5. that would be 5760 from total deaths of 6400.
    But one still doesn’t know how many of the 342,000 people infected were children. But most certainly were.
    Anyone born before 1957 in the USA does not need to prove immunity to measles, everyone gets it without vaccine. I had it at age 5, I remember being allowed to stay in my parents bedroom with all the window shades down- photophobia being one of the common symptoms. Afterwards I thought it was the first time I read a book to myself- Alice in Wonderland, but reflecting now – I probably just looked at the drawings. Becca

  4. catherine Fasbender
    Posted 2020-05-20 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Many thanks for this article. It isn’t easy to find up to date information on the Covid 19 situation in the DRC, at least not in the US press. The Johns Hopkins site gives basic figures, but it is hard to know whether they remain low for lack of testing or because the disease is not spreading (yet).

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