Ebola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have had a very prolonged history. The virus takes its name from the Ebola river, which is situated next to the village where the virus appeared for the first time in 1976. During the decades that followed, several epidemics occurred in the country in 1977, 1995, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2017.
Since Tuesday 8 May 2018, the DRC has faced its ninth epidemic of the Ebola virus disease. Since the declaration of the epidemic by the Minister of Public Health, the teams of the UNICEF office in Mbandaka have mobilised in order to organise the response alongside the Government and its partners. The Bikoro health zone, the epicentre of the epidemic, is only situated around a hundred kilometres from the city of Mbandaka.
It was a few days after that I was asked to go to Mbandaka. I ask myself: is it really wise to go there? Is it really essential? After some moments of reflection (and after verifying my health insurance), the decision is made: I will go to Mbandaka. To depart for an affected zone is not a choice to be made without precaution: I had to bring a personal protection kit weighing almost 10 kilograms with me. Boots, gloves, biohazard suit, glasses and various medications will be my travel companions, without forgetting the hand sanitiser that will not leave my side for a single minute…
Upon boarding the plane for Mbandaka, it was compulsory to apply gel on my hands. During the 90-minute flight, the word ‘Ebola’ was at the centre of every conversation. When we landed, security was reinforced: we had to pass through a laser thermometer and a thermal camera that displayed the temperature of the body.
Peculiarly, when I left the airport to present myself at the UNICEF office, you could not tell that Ebola was not far away… apart from some UNICEF handwashing units and some posters, nothing led you to think of Ebola: public places were crowded; merchants travelled up and down the streets, and the taxi-motorbikes (and the taxi-bikes) were packed. Everyone went about their daily business. But since the famous Tuesday 8 May 2018, in the refuge of certain buildings in the city, a race against the clock was taking its course: it was necessary to implement a response plan to contain the epidemic as rapidly as possible. This is a war for life. In light of the emergency, offices and meeting rooms were transformed into crisis zones.
When I arrive at the UNICEF office, I find that six people are meeting around a little table presided by a conference telephone: it is time for an update on the situation with the teams in Bikoro and in Kinshasa. From Kinshasa, Gianfranco Rotigliano, our Representative, facilitates the meeting and does not want to hear about anything other than results. Every moment counts and it is impermissible to lose time. Action must be quick for life to prevail and only results for the children count!
At the end of the call, everyone moves. Doors closes, telephones ring and car motors start: everyone is on a war footing. Only one priority exists: to implement our response as rapidly as possible. Until the middle of the night, the UNICEF office in Mbandaka remains at boiling point. No one rests, some do not even have the time to drink a coffee or eat. A last meeting allows for an update on the day’s activities: logistics, education, protection, health, communication, transport, water and sanitation, etc. No one is set aside because everyone has a role to play in the response.
UNICEF’s response to the Ebola epidemic
Children continue to be at risk and are affected by the Ebola epidemic that is currently occurring in the DRC, which makes it essential that their health and well-being be prioritised in the response. UNICEF focuses on community-based communication to protect populations from the disease, delivering water, hygiene and sanitation in order to prevent the propagation of the disease, and providing psychosocial support to affected persons and their families.
UNICEF is appealing for USD 11.5 million to respond to the Ebola outbreak in DRC. The total UNICEF requirement of is currently funded up to USD 8.7 million thanks to the World Bank Pandemic Emergency Facility, USAID, ECHO, CERF, the Mercury Foundation, CIDA, GAVI and the national committees for UNICEF.
Typhaine Daems est Volontaire des Nations Unies, chargée de communication digitale à l’UNICEF RDC. Elle est s'occupe tout particulièrement de la gestion des réseaux sociaux et du blog.