The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is appealing for $130,000 to help stem an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the Republic of Congo, which already has infected 95 people, killing 72.
The International Red Cross says preventive measures and public information are urgently needed to stop the highly contagious Ebola virus from spreading.
The agency says people in the communities struck by the Ebola epidemic are terrified. It says they mainly are ignorant of the causes of the disease and rely on traditional beliefs to explain what to them is unexplainable.
Red Cross senior epidemiologist Bernard Moriniere says local superstitions and rumors creating hostility against Congolese and international medical workers are hindering efforts to control the disease. "In this context of death, despair, and fear all kinds of tensions can happen," he said. "And often all these rumors build up as a result of ignorance, miscommunication in this context of fear. That is why the bridge that the Red Cross volunteers provide is very important in reaching out to the community."
Dr. Moriniere says part of the money the Red Cross is requesting will be used to help the Congo Red Cross communicate to the people.
The outbreak is concentrated in the Congo's remote forest districts of Etoumbi, Mbomo and Kelle near the border with Gabon. This is the same area that was hit by an Ebola epidemic last year.
Dr. Moriniere notes about 50,000 people live in these districts. He says 100 volunteers will be going from village to village to meet all the affected people.
He said the volunteers are natives of the region and will be able to reach out to the population in a way that is acceptable to them. "They are members of these families and of these villages so they know the beliefs and the fears. They know the language, of course. And they know the families and the people themselves," he continued. "They are part of them and that is the best possible link for the outbreak control team who are coming from the outside."
Ebola is a highly contagious disease. It is spread through blood and body fluids. There is no cure. Between 50 and 90 percent of its victims die. The best way to halt its spread is through prevention, prompt detection and isolation of suspected cases.
Dr. Moriniere says to prevent the spread of the disease, household items such as bedding and cooking utensils are destroyed when a suspected case of Ebola is discovered. He says some of the money from the Red Cross appeal will go to replace these items for the affected families.