Congo-Kinshasa: Ebola - I was so afraid of dying and being put in a body bag, just like my parents

Beni – When Jémima Masika, 26, lost her parents against the deadly Ebola virus in August of last year, she thought the disease was a myth. Then his worst nightmare came true: he contracted the disease while taking care of his sick aunt in hospital.

"I did not believe in the existence of Ebola," he says. "Like many, I took the disease for a [story] composed of politicians. "

This was the tenth outbreak of the highly contagious virus in the DRC, reported in August of last year. But it was the first time that the densely populated province of North Kivu, an area of ​​active conflict, was hit.

"I was helping my aunt and she was throwing up a lot, I had to clean her up several times [some time] later, I started to feel bad. I had the same clinical signs as those of my aunt, "explains Ms. Masika.

When Ebola hits a conflict zone

From August 2018, over 820 people have been infected and of these 513 died. Women and girls were hit harder, accounting for 65% of those infected. As traditional custodians for the sick, women are often at greater risk of exposure.

But the impact of Ebola goes beyond the infected ones. Forced healthcare systems have left many without access to life-saving services, including sexual and reproductive health care. Instability in the region is also preventing response efforts, posing a considerable risk for humanitarian teams mobilizing to stem the epidemic.

"We are offering a complete response to the Ebola epidemic that includes raising awareness to provide communities with essential information to prevent and control the disease," said Sennen Hounton, UNFPA representative for the DRC.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, UNFPA has worked with its partners to prevent the spread of the virus and to ensure that sexual and reproductive health services remain available.

I was told that I was positive

"We were told about Ebola and what to do if you felt certain symptoms, so I went to the Ebola Treatment Center as a precaution," says Ms. Masika. "I was examined and the result was positive."

Ms. Masika was admitted to the treatment center, where she stayed in bed for a month.

"I was so afraid of dying and being put in a sleeping bag, just like my parents," he said sadly.

But within a month, after receiving 30 perfusions and several blood tests, Ms. Masika was declared healed and was happy to be reunited with her community.

UNFPA donates vital equipment to combat the spread of Ebola

In September last year, UNFPA donated 10 tons of medical-surgical equipment to 20 health facilities in Beni, to assist 31,000 people for 6 months and allow women to give birth in maternity hospitals without the risk of contract the disease.

UNFPA also helps midwives to take precautions when it comes to mothers and their newborns.

Ensuring that services like these are available saves women's lives, and those who become infected with the virus are extremely grateful for support.

"I felt so grateful for the services and care I received at the hospital: nurses and doctors were fighting to save my life, and it was free," says Ms. Masika.

But once it has been declared healed by the virus and has been discharged, it has faced new challenges.

"I discovered that my family had given away all my things, because they thought I would not recover," he says.

UNFPA came to his aid. The Fund provides dignity kits to women and girls who survived Ebola on their return to their communities, so they can get some comfort after a long illness. And crucially, UNFPA guarantees access to reproductive health services, including family planning.

"I thank the UNFPA, which helped me by delivering a kit of dignity." As a cure for Ebola, I have committed myself to helping others sensitize them on how to observe the rules of hygiene, in particular by washing the hands to protect yourself against the disease, "says Ms. Masika.

Since then she has become one of the icons of her community, known for its spirit of resilience.

Support communities to prevent ebola

UNFPA has also provided more than 50 motorcycles and software tools to support monitoring and follow-up of contacts in the Komanda Health Zone, Ituri.

Since the start of a vaccination campaign against Ebola in August last year, over 75,000 people have been vaccinated, of whom more than 20,000 were residents of Beni. UNFPA has provided critical supplies for this campaign, including 10,000 vaccination syringes, to strengthen control measures and strengthen water, sanitation and sanitation services in health facilities and communities.

UNFPA has also sponsored a football tournament, theatrical activities and a sensitization march of over 1,000 students in support of the Ministry of Health campaign, "Ebola not at home".

"We remain committed to continuing to provide life-saving health services to ensure that women and young people do not fall behind during this crisis," says Hounton.

– Aimee Manimani with the contribution of Brigitte Kiaku