Ebola: from resistance to commitment

As resistance from some communities complicates the response to the Ebola epidemic, teams supported by UNICEF are mobilizing to get their support.

Jean-Claude Wenga (translated from French by Dorsaf James)
Mireille a intégré l’équipe de riposte pour apporter un soutien psychosocial aux personnes affectées par la maladie
25 August 2020

Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo - When an Ebola epidemic in Equateur province  was reported, Mireille joined the response team in order to provide psychosocial support to those affected by the disease. For nearly 10 years, Mireille has been a social worker in the Mbandaka Social Affairs Division caring for vulnerable people including children, by helping them overcome their difficulties and thus improve their living conditions.

Every day, Mireille meets affected children, families, and parents to support them and meet their needs. Since the beginning of the epidemic, UNICEF has trained 135 psychosocial assistants and 8 psychologists who assisted more than 370 families affected by Ebola across the province of Equateur. Mireille also works with surveillance teams to encourage people the disease symptoms to go to the city treatment center, where they can be diagnosed and taken care of quickly.

A few weeks ago, Mireille was called to the residence of a man vomiting and bleedings. “I went straight to his home and found him very sick”, recalls Mireille. The patient's relatives were hostile to the response efforts against the Ebola virus. “Despite pressure from his family, I convinced him to accept”, continues Mireille who immediately called an ambulance to transport the patient to the treatment center.

When the patient was put in the ambulance, Mireille stayed behind to talk to the family and other neighbors. Epicenter of the epidemic in Mbandaka, the Air-Congo district is also an area of significant community resistance.  “Several people surrounded me and said that their brother did not have Ebola”, recalls Mireille with some anxiety.

Under threats, Mireille and the other response team members left the neighborhood. “At about 22:00, eight men barged into my home and threatened to kill me if their brother happened to die” continues Mireille.  When she learned that the patient died a few hours after the diagnosis was confirmed, Mireille decided to return to the family home accompanied by several members of the response team to continue the dialogue with the relatives of the deceased patient.

Through persuasive argument, Mireille made the situation clear to the family that now plays a role of ambassador to other resistant families.

UNICEF's reponse is supported by the World Bank Group, UKAid (FCDO), USAID (BHA), Humanitarian Fund for DRC, Netherlands' contribution to Global Humanitarian Thematic Funds (GHT).