People skills at heart of DR Congo’s long fight against Ebola

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BUTEMBO, DR Congo, April 6, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Evelyne was one of the first
victims of the Ebola epidemic which broke out in eastern DR Congo last
August, the second deadliest in its known history.

Against the odds, the nurse not only survived the haemorrhagic virus, whose
outbreak has claimed nearly 700 lives, but has also returned to the fray.

After receiving a vaccination, Evelyne is now tending Ebola-affected
children — part of a campaign that places social skills at the heart of the
effort to roll back the dreaded disease.

At an Ebola treatment centre, Evelyne (her name has been changed for the
purposes of this story) cradles a seven-month-old baby girl called Sarah.

She provides the infant with desperately-needed human contact — visitors
are kept behind protective screens to prevent them from coming into contact
with the body fluids of patients who may have the virus.

“The first test was negative,” Evelyne calls out. “We are waiting for the
results of the second.”

– Collateral victims –

The UN children’s agency UNICEF says 30 percent of the 683 deaths
registered so far are children or aged under 18 years.

Many children are collateral victims, such as Luc, a five-year-old boy
playing football with Consolee Katsiwa, a psychologist in a creche run by
UNICEF.

His mother died of Ebola a day earlier, Katsiwa said.

“We are keeping him under observation since he was in direct contact with
his mother,” she said, adding that he would be monitored for 21 days — the
time taken for the virus to incubate.

“If he shows signs of the disease… he could contaminate others in his
community.”

At a school in Butembo, five pupils carefully take notes during an Ebola
awareness programme.

One of the speakers is Huguette, a 24-year-old woman who was cured after
being infected following an Ebola death in January.

“I would like to raise awareness among my brothers in Butembo, to tell them
that the disease exists, that it is a reality and that it’s not stuff that
has been invented.

“If you don’t head for the Ebola treatment centre you will die. But if you
go there at the very early stages, you will survive like me,” she said.

– ‘Appease the spirits’ –

Denial has been costly and bloody. Two Ebola treatment centres in Butembo
and the neighbouring town of Katwa were attacked in February and March. A
policeman died in the violence.

The centre at Katwa reopened last Saturday and authorities are now trying
to get locals more involved in the Ebola response drive that many see as
being led by foreign aid workers.

The health ministry meanwhile said sociologists and anthropologists had
called for traditional chiefs to “observe rituals to appease the spirits”
before the Katwa centre reopened.

“Confidence-building has taken place between the communities and those
involved in the response programme in areas where the most violence was
recorded,” it added.

Residents have asked the government and non-governmental organisations to
improve the ramshackle infrastructure to provide potable water and better
roads.

“Ebola instils fear but people understand that it poses a danger and one
must protect oneself,” said Salome, a woman living near the Katwa centre.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the fight against the
epidemic could take another six months.

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