Fresh from battling Ebola, DR Congo now faces highest Covid-19 death rate

Saturday April 04 2020

Staff members of the Congolese Ministry of Health leave after performing a Covid-19 test at a private residence in Goma, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on March 31, 2020. PHOTO | ALEXIS HUGUET | AFP


The rising death rate from Covid-19 in the Democratic Republic of Congo is worrying medics as the country is just emerging from an Ebola outbreak.

By Friday, 16 people had died out of the 148 confirmed cases, giving the country a nine per cent death rate—one of the highest in Africa.

The global average, based on the 940,733 confirmed cases, is five per cent. By Thursday, there were 47,518 deaths globally, mostly in Italy, Spain, US and China.

In Africa, the infection had reached 64,000 with 229 deaths—a 3.5 per cent rate. South Africa, the most affected country in Africa, has five deaths out of 1,350 cases of infected people.

Scientifically, the percentage of people who die from a pool of infected population is known as a case fatality rate, which means that the rate declared by DR Congo, for example, is only from a pool of people confirmed to have been infected, and killed by the virus.



Eteni Longondo, the Minister of Public Health, who has been giving a daily tally of infections and deaths said three people had been cured of the virus.

But why would DRC’s fatality rate be so high? One reason given by a government official in Kinshasa is that residents in the capital city didn’t take the coronavirus threat seriously, until the first case was announced.

Several specialists in DR Congo, including Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the head of the national microbiology research institute and Nobel laureate Denis Mukwege, have both expressed fears of the “worst” in the coming weeks.

Dr Muyembe is co-ordinator of the national technical secretariat of the response to Covid-19, while Dr Mukwege is co-ordinator in South Kivu. When cases rose a fortnight ago, the national medical union said the country only had 50 ventilators.

One medic in Kinshasa, charged with handling isolation cases, told The EastAfrican that his hospital “lacks a bit of everything: No ventilators, no extractors, concentrators and even simple oxygen tanks.”

The country’s doctors also regularly threaten to go on strike. In early February, they resumed work, but said that if the government does not honour its commitment within 60 days, they would resume their strike.

This threat expires in early April, which is when the country expects more covid-19 cases.

Kinshasa, a city of more than 12 million, is the epicentre of Covid-19 in the DR Congo. Last week, officials put the city under lockdown, after President Felix Tshisekedi declared a state of emergency.

The markets were partially closed, but the curfew measures announced by Gentiny Ngobila, the governor of Kinshasa on March 26 were updated with an intermittent lockdown from March 28.

By Thursday, President Tshisekedi was expected to announce more measures going into the weekend. Already, bars, restaurants and churches have been closed.
Yet Kinshasa is just as chaotic as usual.

Vidiye Tshimanga, chairman of popular local football club DCMP and a relative of President Tshisekedi, is one of the prominent Congolese figures to get Covid-19. He said he struggled to get help and thought he had been left to die.

After testing positive, he was quarantined in his home, "as is the case with other patients whose condition does not necessarily require hospitalisation."

Mr Tshimanga who said he was cured, added that part of the reasons for higher death rates may be due to “uninformed and fearful medical teams” especially in private medical facilities.

He argued that all hospitals should be compelled to admit patients.