Ebola - spread through love

"We loved each other dearly, we were inseparable. But everything suddenly changed when Ebola took Anita on 20 November last year."

Typhaine Daems (translated from French by Johanna MCCALMONT)
A l'est de la RDC, Germain mène des activités de sensibilisation  aux côtés de l’UNICEF
03 May 2019

Germain Mukangi (45) doesn't try to hide his overwhelming grief when he talks about his wife. Anita was only 25 when she died from the Ebola virus in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). "I miss her terribly," Germain says repeatedly as he shares his sad story.  It all started when Germain's sister passed away. Anita immediately volunteered to take care of her baby who was only a few weeks old at the time. Anita breastfed the new addition to the family just has she had her own children. Breastfeeding not only passes on nutrients and antibodies, it's also a loving gesture.

Anita didn't know that this loving gesture would cost her dearly. A few days after starting to feed the baby, Anita began to feel unwell, and started to vomit and pass diarrhoea. The infant died. Either unaware of or afraid to recognise the first symptoms of Ebola, Anita stayed at home for a few days hoping she would get better.

"A neighbour had to call for help," reflects Germain. Paramedics in protective clothing arrived at the family home to collect Anita. Germain, who was not allowed in the ambulance in order to avoid any risk of contamination, jumped on a moto-taxi and followed the ambulance to the treatment centre. When the ambulance doors opened, Germain received another blow: Anita was dead.

Today, Germain is left on his own with two young children, Kambale (9 months) and Mumbere (2). "Anita was too young to go. If only we'd known ..." continues Germain, unable to finish his sentence.  Devasted, Germain is now trying to turn his grief into something positive in order to end the Ebola epidemic.

Since Anita's death, he has worked with UNICEF to raise awareness about the virus in his community. "Some people refuse to accept that the disease exists," admits Germain who shares his sad experience with others in order to try to convince them otherwise. He reminds everyone in his community that all contact with anyone displaying Ebola symptoms must be avoided. When a loved one falls ill, it is human instinct to help and care for them. But with Ebola, you have to do the opposite and isolate the patient.

Germain also keeps an eye on the health of about fifty families in his district in order to direct them to the appropriate health care services if necessary. "If I'd taken Anita to the treatment centre sooner, she could have survived," concludes Germain.  

UNICEF’s response to the Ebola epidemic is supported by the World Bank Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, the European Commission – European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the Vaccine Alliance, the United States Agency for International Development, the Central Emergency Response Fund and the Government of Japan. UNICEF is also supported by the German Committee for UNICEF.