It’s a mystery and, for many here, it seems like a miracle. Kinshasa remains to this day relatively spared by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the arrival of the Indian variant worries, especially as the vaccine is not successful among skeptical Kinshasa. “The Covid in Kin? It does not exist “ : more than a year after the appearance of the virus in the city, the sentence returns as a leitmotif in the sprawling capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“If the Covid was really there, we would all be dead! “exclaims Lonzo, sitting in front of his stall in a popular market. “In the streets, on the buses, at home, we all live stuck, stuck …”, this fellow amuses himself by showing the activity of an anthill around him, in the dust and the din of traffic jams.
«Kinshasa Makambo! » (“Kinshasa the problems”), say the Kinshasa people of their capital. Crazy city, with wild urbanization, with districts of poverty and resourcefulness, where daily life, often without drinking water or electricity, is a permanent struggle for survival.
The town of Gombe, the first affected
Twenty-four municipalities, between 12 and 17 million inhabitants, a polluted, unpredictable city that never sleeps … “The Leopard City”, it is also said, where you have to be always ready to ward off attacks or jump at the right opportunity.
When in March 2020, the coronavirus makes its appearance, coming from Europe, in the second megalopolis of sub-Saharan Africa, the worst is to be feared. The cases are concentrated in the commune of Gombe, the center of power and business, of rich Congolese and « expats ». The Covid-19 is then clearly perceived as a distant evil, a disease of “Whites” and of « riches », circumscribed to the “Republic of Gombe”.
“The Covid should have massacred us. But until then, we have been spared ”, is surprised Aimée Rugambo, nurse of a Covid treatment center (CTCO) set up by the government at Vijana hospital. “God in control! He protected us ”, she concludes. But “We have to tell people that the Covid exists. He is in Kinshasa, and he kills “, warns the nurse.
“People always find it hard to believe it”
Official statistics report 30,862 cases since March 2020, the vast majority in Kinshasa (21,284), for 779 deaths. A negligible figure in a gigantic country, hit for three decades by a whirlwind of wars and misery. “We will never know the number of infected or dead from the “corona”, most are untested, too complicated or too expensive ”, remarks a Congolese journalist.
Here, grappling with so many other plagues on a daily basis, “You only go to the hospital if you are seriously ill”. In the event of a suspected fever, the Kinshasa can be treated first with “Home remedies” and the « saunas » (inhalations).
“Often without symptoms, with few deaths recorded, people still find it hard to believe”, summarizes Dr. Jules Mongomba, “Covid supervisor” of the municipality of Linguala. “With our living conditions, we must also believe that we have developed a certain resilience”, he concludes, philosopher.
In more than a year of the epidemic, the authorities seem to have taken matters into their own hands, while Kinshasa remains the main focus. At the CTCO in Vijana, the care is well established. A tent with epidemic standards accommodates suspected cases, facing a solid building, where confirmed patients are treated free of charge (with chloroquine) by trained and well-equipped staff.
Vaccination does not take off
At the national level, many questions remain: porosity of borders, seriousness of the tests, meager stocks of oxygen, the effectiveness of a vague curfew only in the city center … As for barrier actions, they boil down to a “Muffler” (mask) worn in a few stores and city center administrations.
Free and open to all, vaccination does not take off. They were only 11,000 vaccinated this weekend in Kinshasa (14,434 in the country). “People are skeptical, deplores Dr Wamba Nice, director of the Vijana hospital. Many are afraid, in particular because of the rumors on social networks ”.
They are only two candidates for the injection, that day, in Vijana, of Indo-Pakistanis who refuse to speak. The day before, no one came. For the time being, it is mainly foreigners who are benefiting from it. “Few people come, we have lost doses, it’s a shame”scolds Dr Nice.
On May 10, the government informed of the detection, in Kinshasa itself, of five cases of the Indian variant, in an opulent building in Gombe, where several Indian families live. “The Indian variant is already in the Congo”, warned President Félix Tshisekedi. “We in Africa have received God’s blessing. We haven’t had as many deaths as in Europe or America. But beware, the situation is changing ”.
For caregivers, the lull observed since February is over. “The cases are increasing”, worries Dr. Nice according to whom, no doubt, “The third wave has already started”.