“When I got home, I asked my wife and children not to come near me because I had just transported a sick person who had died of Ebola”, says 35 year-old Roger Bongondo. Having been in direct contact with this deadly disease, the Boende resident was panic-stricken, but it did not stop him from making the right decision. “Then I locked my motorcycle in a room and warned my family not to go near it. I then went to the hospital as Dr Bonace had instructed”.
Bongondo drives a motorcycle for commercial purposes, commonly known as a ‘motorcycle taxi’. He is a pugnacious man, with a lively expression, perhaps even an aggressive demeanour. This taxi driver is typical of the young men in Boende, known for their resourcefulness and readiness to do anything to make ends meet. He carries passengers on his motorcycle for a living, travelling tortuous routes and covering the 70 kilometres that separates Lokalia and the territorial capital, Boende, in no time at all.
Bongondo is the father of three children, with a fourth on its way. It is most likely these responsibilities that led to him carrying out the heroic act of trying to save the life of Dr Lilly, a health worker who had caught the Ebola virus whilst doing her job. “I was transporting passengers between Watshikengo and Boende. On my route that day, in the village of Etuku, I came across ‘Mama Docteur’ who was sick with the Ebola virus. Her team members had recently died. The village leader begged me to drive her to Boende or Lokalia. As a Christian, I couldn’t refuse. Several kilometres from Lokalia, ‘Mama Docteur’ could no longer hold on and she died in my arms”, recalls the young taxi driver, with compassion in his eyes.
The taxi driver rushed to hospital instead of waiting for the disease to develop
On 24 August 2014, the Minister of Health declared an Ebola virus disease epidemic in Equateur province’s Boende health zone. One month on from then, there have been 70 registered cases, 30 of which are confirmed, 26 probable and 14 suspected. Forty two deaths have also been recorded, 16 of which were confirmed to have been caused by the virus.
The young taxi driver continued his journey to Lokalia, where another health worker, Dr Bonace, asked him to keep going to Boende, not before advising him to go straight to the hospital for observation. “I took myself straight to the hospital, as instructed by Dr Bonace. I was monitored for 21 days by the hospital’s head physician and nurses”, says Bongondo. “Every day, they watched me for the slightest signs of the Ebola disease, for fever, blood streaked diarrhoea or whether I was vomiting blood”.
After 21 days, the incubation period for the Ebola virus disease, Bongondo was ‘released’. Since the start of this epidemic, there have been 939 contact cases similar to Bongondo’s; that is to say, people who have been in direct contact with someone who has been ill or died of Ebola. To date, 628 of them have been ‘released’ after 21 days.
Ebola ‘kills’ the dead and ‘ruins’ the living, but it can be prevented
The Ebola virus did not kill Bongondo but risks ruining him. He had hired the motorcycle for his business and, as it has been ‘quarantined’ at home since mid-August awaiting disinfection, the owner is claiming payment from him. “I am married and I have children who go to school. My goods remain in Lokalia”, he explains, unhappily. The motorcycle’s owner considers that it is still on hire and, besides, he is demanding a new motorcycle since the one I hired is contaminated by Ebola”.
Today, Bongondo’s motorcycle has been disinfected and he will be able to use it to continue his taxi driving business. In the first instance, Bongondo has already shown his capacity as a social mobiliser against the disease by avoiding contaminating his family. He immediately agreed to tell his story on the radio and in discussions groups, helping to combat myths and false beliefs about the disease as well as resistance to prevention methods.
UNICEF has increased communication efforts to better protect communities against the spread of the Ebola virus. Traditional and religious leaders, teachers and community workers have been used to inform populations about the disease. Another 60 volunteers have been trained in the prevention of Ebola and survivors’ testimonies, such as Bongondo’s, have been gathered and used. UNICEF has also facilitated psycho-social support for affected families, for better reintegration of Ebola survivors so that resistance to good hygiene practices can be overcome.
Translated from French by Victoria Steele.
Ndiaga Seck est le Spécialiste en Communication de l’UNICEF à l’Est de la RDC. Il a une spécialisation en Études Humaines et Sociales, en Éducation et en Journalisme. Pendant les huit dernières années, il a travaillé pour IRIN et OCHA en Afrique de l’Ouest, OCHA et UNICEF en RDC. Son credo : « Un monde digne des enfants est à portée de main. Saisissons-le ! »
Ndiaga Seck is a UNICEF Communications Specialist in Eastern DRC. He specializes in human and social studies, education and journalism. For the past eight years, he has worked with IRIN, OCHA, in West Africa. His leitmotiv: “A World fit for children is within reach. Let’s grab it!”
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