The government of President Félix Tshisekedi should prioritize support for low-income communities, displaced people, and others at greatest risk as it responds to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
“Congo’s government needs to react to the overwhelming COVID-19 crisis with a global approach that respects not only the health but all rights of everyone in the country,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should develop aid strategies with local and international partners to reach the most vulnerable populations and ensure that health workers can do their jobs safely.”
Kinshasa’s provincial governor, Gentiny Ngobila, announced on April 2 that Kinshasa’s business district, Gombe, will be on total lockdown for 14 days, starting on April 6.
HRW said as officials consider extending the lockdown to other districts and cities, “they should recognize that strictly confining people at home will hurt millions who work in the informal sector and live hand-to-mouth”, adding that the government should take steps to the maximum of available resources so that people have sufficient food and access to clean water.
“The authorities should work with neighborhood and community groups, houses of worship, and local and international aid organizations to ensure everyone’s health and well-being, including by organizing food and water distributions in the most at-risk neighborhoods,” the organization said, adding that, distrust, misinformation, and suspicion during the response to an Ebola outbreak in late 2018 in eastern Congo sparked violence against health workers, helping the virus spread while critical assistance was partially suspended.
Human Rights Watch said the Congolese government should “quickly begin an effective communications strategy to provide accurate, timely information about measures to contain the coronavirus”.
“The Congolese government’s response to the pandemic should start with a robust communication plan to gain the people’s trust,” Mudge said. “But it will need to quickly put in place rights-respecting humanitarian measures. The survival of millions of people will depend on it.”
Congolese health officials have confirmed 134 COVID-19 cases as of April 2, 2020, with 13 deaths. Most cases have been in the capital, Kinshasa, while a handful have been reported in cities in eastern Congo. The actual number of cases is most likely higher since testing is limited and many with the virus may not show symptoms.
The Congolese government has already taken steps to stop the spread of the virus, including restricting all forms of internal and international travel except for cargo; banning large gatherings; closing bars, restaurants, places of worship and schools; and shutting down borders.Instructions have been given to erect water points for hand washing in public areas, but Human Rights Watch said it found that many districts in cities and towns are still awaiting equipment.
“The National Institute for Biomedical Research, based in Kinshasa, coordinates testing and processes all samples across the country of 80 million people. The government should decentralize its testing capacities to identify people infected with COVID-19 more effectively, and isolate and start treating positive cases faster”, Human Rights Watch said.