Ebola: a life lesson for Esther

In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, many Ebola survivors mobilized to protect the youngest victims of the disease.

Jean-Claude Wenga (translated from French by Dorsaf James)
Esther, une survivante d'Ebola
UNICEF DRC Wenga
01 May 2020

Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo - Before contracting Ebola virus disease, Esther, like many Beni residents, did not believe that this disease existed. Then, one day in September 2018, the mother was infected.

“I had a headache, I was too cold, and I was shivering”, recalls Esther, who initially tried self-medication. Esther's husband, worried that his wife would bleed, tried to reason with her to see a doctor, but nothing worked. Esther recognized the symptoms of Ebola, but the shame and stigma experienced by people who contracted the disease prevented her from going to the treatment center. “I remained at home for three days and continued to bleed”, says Esther.

The more the days passed, the more unbearable the pains became. Having no other choice, Esther decided to go to the hospital closest to her home. Upon arrival, she was immediately transported by ambulance to the Ebola treatment center. “I was thinking about my children”, says Esther, remembering her thoughts when the diagnosis hit. After weeks of treatment, Esther was declared cured and left the treatment center. 

Happy to be surrounded by her children and husband again, Esther feared the reaction of her relatives, neighbors, and friends. “My community considered Ebola patients to be very dirty people”, said Esther. With the support of UNICEF teams that accompanied her during her return to her community, Esther was finally well welcomed- much to the delight of her children.

Esther, une survivante d'Ebola, berce un enfant séparé de ses parents à cause de la maldie
UNICEF DRC Wenga

Realizing the gravity of the situation that was playing out, Esther decided to use her immunity to reach out and help. She then cared for babies in a childcare center set up by UNICEF to look after children orphaned or separated from their parents because of the disease. As a mother, she knew how difficult it was for her to be separated from her children during her treatment. 

“I considered them my own babies”, explains Esther proudly. After months of caring for dozens of children, Esther hopes that no more children will be in this situation. “It was a difficult experience, especially for the children who were orphaned. As a mother, I can only wish them a lot of courage”, concludes Esther. 

UNICEF has set up 5 nurseries where more than 60 women like Esther care for orphaned or separated children thanks to the support of the  World Bank , the European Commission - European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations , the United States Agency for International Development , the Central Emergency Response Fund , and the British Government.