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Samaritan’s Purse sends team to Democratic Republic of Congo to fight Ebola outbreak

As the deadly Ebola outbreak continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, volunteers from Calgary-based Samaritan’s Purse have traveled to the region where they hope to lend a helping hand to those badly in need of urgent treatment.

Nearly 300 people have died and at least 200 more are fighting for their lives in Congo due to the outbreak — declared Aug. 1 — of the highly contagious virus. About seven new cases of Ebola are being reported each day, while the often-fatal virus continues to spread throughout the country.

“We’ve been watching Ebola as it’s come in the last couple waves,” said David Bock, international disaster response manager for Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief and development organization.

“We know this is a dangerous disease but our teams are taking it on.”

Five Canadians are in Congo as part of the organization’s response, which includes 40 international staff members. They’re working on the completion of an Ebola treatment center, which will include special isolation units so Ebola patients can be treated without endangering other patients.

The center will initially have beds for 20 suspected or confirmed Ebola cases but will be able to fit a maximum of 60 beds over the coming weeks.

The group also includes experienced medical specialists who will help operate the centre alongside locally hired staff.

Bock said the non-profit organization has a history of responding to Ebola outbreaks, including in Liberia, where the disease spread in 2014. That outbreak killed more than 11,000 people in Liberia and four other west African countries.

Samaritan’s Purse has kept a presence with an office in the northeast Congolese city of Bunia.

“We’ve been watching Ebola as it’s come in the last couple waves,” said Bock. “We haven’t wanted to confront it until it really came to our front door. Now we’ve seen that it’s come closer and closer, starting to impact the communities that we work with in that area.”

It’s the second-deadliest outbreak of the virus, which spreads via infected bodily fluids, in history. Local officials expect it to continue for at least another three or four months.

Samaritan’s Purse is training and equipping local health staff to go into Ebola-infected communities to teach people about the dangers of the virus. The relief organization is doing similar work in South Sudan in case the outbreak crosses the border.

Bock said that even within the region, there remains a surprising number of misconceptions surrounding the disease.

“We’ve also been doing a bunch of work with awareness creation, working with communities to make sure that people are protecting themselves from Ebola on the ground and working with health clinics in the area as well to make sure their staff are ready and prepared if an Ebola patient comes to their door.”

Bock said the organization expects its response to last at least for the next few months.

“We’ll see what the future has to hold. Our goal is to be there to support this response,” he said.

“We’re a Christian organization so that’s really the heart of what we do but we provide aid to anyone, regardless of religion or race or anything. That’s really the heart of our mission.”



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