‘We Will Conquer Ebola!’: Voices and Faces of the Battle Against the Ebola Epidemic in the DRC
By Franck Sidney Chrysantheme Bitemo
Pictures of health professionals clothed in full protective gear, disinfecting compounds cordoned off by orange nets, wrapping corpses in body bags or caring for patients in CUBEs (Bio-safe Epidemic Emergency Rooms) have been seen around the world and have become synonymous with Ebola. And so it should be, because these unknown individuals who risk their lives each day in the hope of containing Ebola and saving lives are quite extraordinary.
Who are these people whose faces are often hidden behind masks? Here are five profiles of unsung heroes who work at the Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) set up by the ALIMA medical NGO in Beni, a town in North Kivu, one of the epicenters of the epidemic in the DRC.
Dr. Junior Ikomo, 33, Doctor
“I am a member of the first ALIMA team deployed to Beni on August 8, 2018, at the start of the tenth Ebola epidemic in the DRC. ETC staff are vaccinated against the Ebola virus because the risk of contracting the disease is too high and complying with bio-safety regulations is a must. All our staff members know how to conduct themselves once they enter the center, and the type of clothing to be worn in both low- and high-risk areas. The staff have been trained in these practices and we hold weekly briefing meetings to remind everyone of the need to comply with bio-safety principles. What makes me proud is that despite the challenges and difficulties, we have never given up. We have always been available to receive and care for our patients, because this is our duty and our responsibility.”
Louange Katehero, 23, Psychotherapist
With such a first name (Louange means praise in French), it was perhaps inevitable that she would win the admiration of her peers. At 23, Louange, from Butembo, a town in North Kivu located around 50 kilometers from Beni and also hit by the Ebola epidemic, has been hired as a psychotherapist at the Ebola Treatment Center. Her mission? To explain to infected patients and their families that Ebola is just another disease and to describe the treatment, help them to cope with their distress, and fight against the stigmatization of victims. In short, to prepare them psychologically for life, before, during, and after Ebola. Before joining the ETC, Louange received special training, but only over a three-day period. “In emergency situations, you have to be ready to help those in need,” she says. When asked if she had any reservations about coming to the Center, she is quick to dispel any such notions. “As a psychologist, being afraid is not an option,” she says. “Otherwise, how would I be able to help patients and their loved ones?” But Louange had to use psychology to convince her own family and friends. “They thought that I would bring back Ebola to their area,” she says.
Rodrigue Mumbere Kasyenene, 24, Sprayer
“I am responsible for disinfecting the soles of the feet of people entering and leaving the nursery, where children of the women being treated at the Beni Ebola Treatment Center are housed. It’s important because thanks to what I do, I protect myself and I protect others. I have been working at the ETC for the past two months. Four of us man this workstation every day in shifts. My pay is $10 per day. Before, I was a Computer Technician and knew nothing about Ebola. It wasn’t until I joined the ETC that I understood the gravity of the situation. I was afraid, but that also gave me the courage to sensitize others about the existence of the disease and about the need to protect themselves. I am confident that the epidemic will end because things have improved already. The number of cases turning up at the ETC continues to fall because people are becoming more aware. When Ebola ends, it won’t be difficult for me to go back to my full-time job as a Computer Technician.”
Ruth Kayindo Kamavu, 19, Health Promotion Agent
“I have been working at the ETC since December 1, 2018. I have never been afraid because I had already volunteered to be vaccinated and I consider Ebola to be just another disease. At the ETC, I sensitize patients, I give them their meals, clothes, I help them to wash, I try to meet all their needs. Since my arrival, I’ve seen many patients and in Beni, everybody has been made aware. People are increasingly convinced about the effectiveness of our work because they see the sick being healed. Of course, there is no shortage of those who are not so fortunate. When the epidemic is over, I will look for another job, by the grace of God!”
Ghislain Nzanzu Kasirikani, 28, in charge of removing protective clothing
“I am an agronomist by training but I could not work because of the lack of security in my province, where people were being kidnapped in the bush. So I started to work at the ETC on November 16, 2018 as a day worker. First, I was a ‘sprayer’* then I was put in charge of removing the protective clothing of health workers. When we started, the residents of the area would point at us and were skeptical about the disease. But they changed their minds when they started seeing their family members pass away. Today, there is less and less resistance on the part of the community in the town of Beni. If this trend continues, I’m sure that we will soon conquer Ebola!”
*Officer responsible for disinfecting the soles of the feet of people entering and leaving the Ebola Treatment Center