DRC: Living with coronavirus

Congo needs nurses yet it is hard for us to train them, writes Nicole Muyulu

The World Today Published 1 June 2020 Updated 29 March 2021 2 minute READ

Nicole Muyulu

Director of Administration, Institut Supérieur en Sciences Infirmières (ISSI)

I am a nurse and I work mainly as a teacher in the Higher Institute in Nursing Sciences, known as ISSI, in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. On March 19, President Felix Tshisekedi announced the closure of all public places – schools, universities, bars and restaurants – throughout the country and the suspension of all flights from countries at risk. A state of emergency was declared on March 24. Since then the state of emergency has been repeatedly extended, with no specific date for returning to normal activities.

At the end of May our country had recorded 69 deaths from coronavirus and 2,660 cases. Some Congolese, especially among the least educated, think that the virus does not affect people with black skin and it must have come here because of people travelling abroad. Rumours are circulating that the death toll is fictitious to justify the aid received by international organizations.

As for daily life, there is no proper confinement. Everyone is required to wear a mask in public places at the risk of receiving a fine of 5,000 Congolese francs, or about 2.70 US dollars. Unfortunately, this gives the police the opportunity to fill their pockets by arresting people who do not have masks or who transport people without respecting social distancing. In a country where the majority of the population uses privately operated public transport, it is unrealistic to demand this.

In reality, containment measures are difficult to implement in Kinshasa where a large part of the population lives in precarious conditions. In the capital there is more risk of starving than of COVID-19. Indeed, asking people not to go out means preventing them from earning their daily bread.

We have had to close the nursing college and it is with great difficulty that we try to keep the students motivated by sending work via WhatsApp. Online work is not very developed because broadband internet is not very accessible. The teachers do their best to ensure that the students do not lose a year of study. Above all, we want the final year students to be able to graduate, even if it is after the scheduled date. But for their clinical internship, they need protection to reduce the risk of contamination.

Monkole Hospital, where I am in charge of hygiene, has reserved an entire building for suspected and confirmed patients with coronavirus disease. The problem now is day-to-day management: what to do with the suspected cases while the number of confirmed cases is growing?

In our situation, it seems prudent to keep those who have shown some signs in hospital until they are confirmed as infected or clear. Many people live in housing that does not allow for proper quarantine and people with suspected coronavirus disease need to be made aware so that they can quarantine properly.

Staff must also be trained regularly on the precautions to take to cope with this new pandemic. So we face a major challenge in training, both the staff and the patients who come to the hospital. Indeed, being a country with few resources, we must put more emphasis on training to avoid a new health disaster.