DR Congo: radio presenter is murdered due to public misconceptions about Ebola

17 January, 2020

We have read about Ebola frontline health workers being murdered in DR Congo. The targets now include those who provide reliable information about Ebola.

Extracts below from The New Humanitarian. Read online here: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/1/15/Ebola-Congo-so...

--

In Congo’s Ebola zone, misinformation persists even as cases slow

Fighting the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has proven deadly – not only to aid responders who have suffered nearly 400 attacks since the outbreak began in 2018, but also to those fighting the spread of misinformation about the disease.

Papy Mumbere Mahamba was one such casualty. In November 2019, the community radio broadcaster was stabbed to death in his home in Lwemba – a town in the heart of the Ebola outbreak zone.

Mahamba had been working with the Congolese Ministry of Health’s Ebola response efforts to broadcast information on Radio Lwemba about the disease to the local community.

Joel Musavuli, the director of the radio station, told The New Humanitarian that prior to the attack he and his team had received threatening phone calls, and even visits to the station, from people who said they would kill anyone who talked about Ebola on air...

With the station’s final broadcast, the community lost not only a source of vital information at the height of an Ebola crisis that has killed 2,235 people and counting, but also a bulwark against the tidal wave of misinformation flooding eastern Congo since the outbreak began...

Rumours persist – including claims Ebola vaccines are fake, that responders are stealing organs from the dead, that the disease is meant to eradicate those in the opposition stronghold, and that the outbreak is a money-making venture for a select few.

Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO) – the main UN agency supporting the Congolese government, which has led the response to the outbreak – described it as an "infodemic"...

WhatsApp – the most popular messaging app in Congo... O’Neill is an analyst at Novetta, an analytics company on contract with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a US government agency...

O’Neill has been monitoring 19 WhatsApp groups in Beni and Butembo – two of the biggest cities in the outbreak zone – for nearly a year. Each group has between 100 and 300 members... O’Neill said the types of rumours cropping up on WhatsApp have been consistent and show no signs of abating.

Greiner explained that the best response strategy is often just to give the right information...

“It’s less about messaging back or debunking a particular rumour, and more about using that information to prepare health workers and community leaders to have the right information at the right moment.”...

Because they talked about Ebola on air, not even the shutdown of Radio Lwemba has removed Musavali or his team from danger. “Even until now, we receive death threats,” he said. With the closing of the station, Musavali said he was even more worried, because now “the whole community does not have access to the information”.

--

Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org