Ebola awareness session in North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Photo credit: Sacha Myers / Save the Children
DRC Ebola Update: Setbacks as Disease Spread Quickly
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (April 5, 2019) – With the number of cases of Ebola in DRC at over 1,100, and an escalating number of cases in the last two weeks, Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s Country Director in the DRC, said:
“The challenges facing efforts to stamp out the disease are enormous. Progress was being made, but this spike in cases shows any gains could be unraveling. With the wrong approach, fear and suspicion could still overwhelm the fight against the disease."
“Save the Children has been working round the clock to help communities fight the disease. We work within and alongside communities to ensure they know how to protect themselves and feel supported through the terrible experience of having a strange and deadly disease on their doorstep.”
Kerr added that longstanding conflict in the area is combining with Ebola to leave children living in constant fear.
“Children are scared and angry about what is happening to them. For years they’ve had neighbors, friends and loved ones killed brutally in the conflict while working in their fields or walking in the streets. Now Ebola is not only taking more lives – but it is also destroying the much-needed connection children have with their family and friends because they cannot touch or comfort each other. They live in constant fear of contracting the disease but also of being attacked by armed groups.”
“People used to think Ebola was brought by bad spirits”
Save the Children has spoken to children and families trying to deal with the dual threat of conflict and Ebola, who have shed light on the fears and misconceptions around the disease.
An armed group massacred thirteen year-old Pierre’s* uncle, aunt and one of their children in their field. Pierre’s one-month-old baby cousin was also shot in the attack but survived after five months of treatment. After this tragedy, he and his family are facing the new threat of Ebola.
Pierre attends Ebola awareness sessions with Save the Children and shares the information with his friends. He said:
“People used to think Ebola was brought by bad spirits. When a child contracts Ebola he can have a high fever, he sweats a lot and his eyes change color.”
Pierre’s father Henri* looks after his brother’s orphaned children and his own – 15 in all. He is also a community leader trained by Save the Children to go house-to-house informing families about the Ebola virus and how to protect themselves.
“There was a lot of resistance because people thought Ebola was scary,” Henri said. We also thought it was bad spirits. Others thought it was the government who created the virus to reduce the population of the country. We were afraid because of the conflict and we were waiting for the election. This contributed to people’s misunderstanding about Ebola, and thinking the government created Ebola to reduce the number of people.
“I inform neighbors and families about Ebola to show them how Ebola is a dangerous disease that might kill the whole village.”
Fifteen year-old Sebastien* initially did not believe Ebola existed and refused to be vaccinated. He changed his mind about Ebola after attending awareness raising classes with Save the Children.
“Ebola touched some of my friends, but I refused to get vaccinated. Many parents refused for their children to be vaccinated because they were not informed,” Sebastien said. “They thought that the people bringing the vaccine had come from people with Ebola and that they would infect them. I thought that when you got vaccinated you got the disease. People were saying that once you got vaccinated you died.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity
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