Globally, as of today, there have been 4,218,212 people tested positive for COVID-19, and 290,242 have died, reported by WHO. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), about 1,169 people tested positive for COVID-19 and 50 have died .
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) sees how this virus has crippled some of the most advanced health systems, in countries that have a social safety net where most people have access to running water and space to self-isolate.
This is simply not possible for people in many of the countries where we typically work. Our greatest concern remain for places with weaker health systems where there are vulnerable people who can’t protect themselves. And as such our international solidarity will be crucial, whilst the response to COVID-19 will have to be tailored to every setting, community, and local capacities.
Therefore, in an effort to tailor our response in the various settings where we work, a few weeks ago MSF started the production of face masks in the DRC. Working with around 20 small sewing shops to produce masks made from one of the validated templates and appropriate material.
The reusable masks produced by MSF in DRC are given to patients, their caretakers and non-medical employees.
“Wearing masks are one of the prevention measures to limit the spread of the disease in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fabric masks have been manufactured for the safety of our beneficiaries on the one hand, and for the safety of our staff in cities that are already affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Maria Mashako, MSF Medical Coordinator.
The rationale behind this production is evident. At times of high transmission and in the early stages of an outbreak, we know that ideally everyone should be practicing physical distancing and hand washing. But in some places this will be difficult or impossible to implement.
While the wearing of masks by most or all members of a community will not alone stop transmission of COVID-19, if done in association with other measures, it could help to reduce or slow the transmission.
Reusable masks are useful here as they can cut down the transmission of droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. They can also increase the benefits of hand washing by making it less likely the wearer will touch her/his mouth or nose. Finally, they can act as a very visual reminder of the other essential measures that are being so widely reported.
Since people might feel they can take short-cuts on the other measures while wearing masks, information about the correct usage of those masks is systematically provided when these masks are given.
MSF is also supporting the Ministry of Health with training of healthcare workers in infection prevention and control (IPC) measures as well as pre-triage, triage, screening and isolation for people with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, in all structures where we work. In some of the country’s hospitals and healthcare centres where MSF is already present, we are building isolation circuits within the structures and setting up additional beds for the isolation and care of potential COVID-19 patients.
We are also carrying out health promotion activities. In South Kivu, MSF is also supporting with laboratory and sample analysis and in Bukavu, with the dignified and secure burial of patients who die from COVID-19.