Trenton Rotarian Daniel Shungu founded The United Front Against Riverblindness (UFAR) in 2006 to combat Onchocerciasis (Riverblindness) as well as four other major NTDs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Visit www.riverblindness.org to learn more about UFAR’s work and their response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the DRC.
Highlights from Daniel’s work in the DRC from October 2 – 25, 2020:
Among the immediate outcomes of the sudden and unpredicted appearance of COVID-19 pandemic included the postponement and the eventually cancelation of the regular and critically important review meeting of the DRC Ministry of Health’s long range program of Mass Drug Distribution for control and elimination of selected neglected tropical diseases, held annually between March and April in Kinshasa.
With the gradual relaxation of instituted measures for the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus, including the resumption of international travels in September 2020, it was reasonable and deemed safe for me to plan a trip back to DRC. The completely overlooked issue was obtaining the DRC visa, as it became obvious that both the DRC Consular Office in Washington, DC and the DRC Mission to the UN in New York remained closed, unresponsive and inaccessible except through recorded telephone messages of the closure without additional useful information. Fortunately in searching for an answer, I learned of a new DRC presidential decree which allows Congolese diaspora to obtain a 30-day visa at the airport on arrival. Strong skeptical, I nevertheless decided to try my luck and travel without a visa. What a pleasant surprise! It only took me 10 min to be issued a DRC visa on arrival at Ndjili International Airport. Undoubtedly all airlines have been informed of this new visa policy for DRC, which allowed me to board the plane in Newark in the first place.
The primary objectives and accomplishments of the trip are summarized.
- Dieudonné Zangamoyo was the finalist out of a pool of 74 candidates, all medical doctors, evaluated through both written and oral exams, selected to replace Dr. Gift Mwelwa as a Medical Technical Officer. He will support primarily SCI -funded projects (Photo 1,2)
- Visit and discussions with the hierarchical authorities of the Easter DRC Conference of the United Methodist Church (EDRCCUMC) in Kindu, Maniema province, on the progress achieved in the collaborative efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in this region (Photos 3,4).
- External Financial Audit – UFAR has undergone routine financial audits arranged and funded by each of our major donor partners. We have taken the initiative this year to arrange for our first external audit of all UFAR’s finances to be carried out by the reputable KPMG International firm. The planned 4 to 5-week audit by several KPMG’s professional staff was started on October 3rd (Photo 5).
- Visit and discussions on the preparedness by both the Maniema (Photo 6) and the Kasai-Kananga (Photo 7) provincial projects for the resumption of the annual programs for control and elimination of NTDs in light of the still COVID-19 challenges
- Each of UFAR’s 4 donor partners has agreed to modify their 2020-2021 budget to include a budget to continue prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in DRC where 22 of a total of 26 provinces have been affected at various degrees. The process of finalizing the budgets to ensure equity across projects supported by all the partners are close to completion. The official date is yet to be determined when it would be deemed appropriate to resume the annual community-based mass drug distribution activities with preventive chemotherapies for control and elimination of 5 selected NTDs.
- In addition to COVID-19, there are concerns about the timely availability at the community levels of the expected NTD drugs and in sufficient quantities, as well as the approved budgets for the implementation of the various mass drug administration activities.