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In the hospitals of Kinshasa, the walls have been pushed back since the end of May. “We have a capacity of 27 beds for Covid-19 patients and there we are at 29 patients. We had to put some in other departments, such as in gynecology ”, explains Doctor Rémy Kashala, head of staff doctor at Monkole hospital. In Saint-Joseph, in the popular district of Limete, “We have reached the maximum”, sighs Doctor Thierry Mukendi, head of the Covid-19 treatment center.
The coronavirus, which mainly struck the affluent neighborhoods of Kinshasa during the first two waves, now affects all sectors of the city. “We are 80% occupied in health structures, and 100% in intensive care. This is unheard of “, alert Jean-Marie Kayembe, responsible for the care of patients at the national response committee.
Most of the bedridden patients in Saint-Joseph require respiratory assistance. In one of the pavilions, Thierry Samu, 40, slowly regains his strength, after twelve days on a respirator. “I was really surprised when the test came back positive, says the engineer, who was alerted by his fever and loss of taste. I didn’t even believe the disease existed. Well I was wrong, I am a living testimony to it. “
Like Thierry, a majority of Congolese remain convinced that Covid-19 does not exist or at least does not exist in Congo. Until then, with barely 43,000 officially recorded cases since March 2020, the country seemed largely untouched by the pandemic. But since the 1is June, a third wave of contaminations wreaked havoc: more than 10,000 new cases were recorded, the majority of which in Kinshasa. A figure probably largely underestimated because of the low number of tests which amount to some 2000 per day on average.
High oxygen requirements
According to Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the head of the Congolese response, the Delta variant, identified for the first time in India, is responsible for 84% of these new cases. The English Alpha Variant and the South African Beta Variant have also been spotted in samples.
More virulent, the Delta variant causes more severe forms of the disease and therefore more hospitalizations. Oxygen requirements are much higher than previous waves. And patients often arrive at a very advanced stage, “Because they were not well oriented in the small health centers”, notes Dr Mukendi, “Or because they did not believe in the virus”.
Private clinics all over the city have been used to relieve public hospitals welcoming Covid-19 patients. To make up for the lack of beds, the response committee asked to requisition 250 additional beds at the large Cinquantenaire hospital. “In addition, there is oxygen which is produced on site”, argues Professor Kayembe.
In hospitals, we lack everything, including human resources. “We could put 8 or 10 new beds in a tent, explains Doctor Mukendi. But on a personal level, it is impossible, we are understaffed. “ The Minister of Health, for his part, asked for the purchase of additional reagents and oxygen to be able to better detect and treat the sick.
In an attempt to curb this third wave, the government has also tightened health restrictions. Bars, terraces and nightclubs, which reopened in summer 2020, are closed again. The curfew is maintained from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. and restaurants must lower the curtains from 9 p.m. Gatherings of more than twenty people are strictly prohibited.
With these new measures, police checks have multiplied: in recent weeks, videos of violent arrests in bars or restaurants in the Congolese capital have been widely disseminated on social networks. Insufficient repressive measures for medical personnel. “When I walk in the neighborhoods, my heart hurts. Barrier gestures have been completely abandoned. I want to tell people that we are dying of Covid-19 in our hospitals ”, sighs Doctor Lubanda, from Saint-Joseph Hospital.
This third wave worries all the more that the vaccination campaign has still not taken off in the country. Despite the support of the WHO Covax system, the DRC has administered a first dose of vaccine to less than 70,000 people, out of more than 80 million inhabitants, since April 19.
Many public figures, including the president himself, Félix Tschisekedi, and the coordinator of the response against Covid-19, have not been vaccinated, the first pointing to the problems of side effects linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine and his “Ineffectiveness”. The country received 1,700,000 doses in March and three quarters have been returned to WHO.
In an attempt to convince the population, the government has promised to diversify its vaccine offer. The Minister of Health announced that he had requested 5.9 million new doses, probably Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Sinovac as part of Covax. The president has promised to get vaccinated when these new vaccines arrive, “During this month”. Bilateral discussions with China are underway to obtain 200,000 to 400,000 doses of Sinovac according to the Minister of Health. But a major communication campaign, announced since April, is still pending.