A month after the declaration of a new Ebola epidemic in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Jerome Kouachi, the Ebola response coordinator for UNICEF, provides a review of the situation.
What is UNICEF doing to fight the Ebola epidemic?
UNICEF acts alongside the DRC Government to help stop the chain of infection of the disease. UNICEF concentrates on communication activities in order to inform and protect local communities, on water, sanitation and hygiene-related activities to prevent the propagation of the disease, and on psychosocial support for families affected by the disease.
What is the status of the Ebola epidemic today?
Since the declaration of the epidemic on the 1st August, 115 cases have been reported (as of 29 August). Even though new people continue to be infected, the number of people who confirmed to be infected decreases every day. Thus, transmission is continuing but appears to be decreasing. This epidemiological trend toward decline shows that the efforts of the Government, with the support of its partners, have a real impact on the ground. By following through with this trend, we will be able to contain and stop the propagation of the Ebola virus.
This is the first Ebola epidemic in this part of the country. How has the population received your messages?
With door-to-door awareness-raising activities and in the heart of communities, the populations in affected zones are as conscious of the danger presented by Ebola as they are about preventive measures. The fear of being stigmatised is also decreasing: the population knows that they must present themselves at the treatment centre or contact the alert phone line the moment the first symptoms appear or when there is a death in the community.
Do the affected populations also get involved in the struggle alongside you?
In Beni or on the road to Mangina, we see more and more merchants who have installed handwashing measures for their clients and even for passers-by. Today, the community has mobilised themselves in the struggle against the Ebola virus.
Community support was also reinforced by the mobilisation of several survivors of the disease. Since the start of the epidemic, 21 people have been cured and 11 people have joined our awareness-raising teams (as of 29 August). Thanks to them, we show the communities that it is possible to defeat Ebola and that rapid treatment, namely the moment the first symptoms appear, is essential. These survivors represent a message of hope for the community and all persons affected by the diseases.
What are the particular challenges of this tenth Ebola epidemic in the DRC?
First and foremost, the location of the epicentre presents significant stakes because of its location in a zone affected by armed conflict. Next, this tenth epidemic has particularly affected women and children. Finally, the approaching start of the school term is a huge challenge. 82,500 children are going to take the path to school in zones affected by the epidemic. We must ensure that these children can return to school in good conditions so that they can be safe in their schools.
Personally, how have you lived this first month of responding to the epidemic?
The fight against an epidemic like Ebola is a daily task. We must be ready 7 days a week and practically 24 hours a day. I often say that Ebola is like a forest fire: small fires can start anywhere and they must be extinguished as quickly as possible in order to prevent everything from being set ablaze. Moreover, the living conditions in Mangina, the epicentre of the epidemic, are not easy at all. Teams who have been constantly based there for weeks demonstrate immense endurance.
It is challenging, but when I see people cured of Ebola leave the treatment centre, this gives me a breath of fresh air, especially when it is children who are reunited with their parents. We must continue and strengthen our efforts in order to stop the propagation of the disease.
Translated from French by Darren Ou Yong
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