The story of Jacques, an 8 year old Ebola survivor

In the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one in three Ebola victims is a child.

Yves Willemot (translated from French by Julia Bayton)
A l’est de la République Démocratique du Congo, une victime d’Ebola sur trois est un enfant.
06 March 2019

“I really love going to school and studying” laughs Jacques, an 8 year old boy who lives in a village near Butembo, one of the epicentres of the current Ebola epidemic which is hitting the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

A few weeks ago, the little boy’s life changed dramatically when his mum started to experience stomach pain.  When her condition didn’t improve, she went to the village health centre and was admitted. “I went to see her often because the health centre is near to school”, Jacques explains.  What no-one knew was that Ebola was spreading though the health centre and infecting everyone there. “I started to feel bad and I had bad headaches” recalls the little boy. The symptoms which Jacques and his mum were displaying looked a lot like those associated with Ebola.

Tests confirmed the diagnosis: mother and son had both been infected with Ebola. Jacques and his Mum had been infected. Taken to the Ebola treatment centre in Butembo – 45 minutes away by car – they were isolated and admitted into the care of the medical team.  When the diagnosis came, the family’s daily life was turned completely upside down.  Jacques and his mum were in isolation in Butembo and the other members of the family had to try and stay hopeful.  Jacques’ dad was forced to stop his work as a farmer in order to take care of his children and visit Jacques.

Une assistante psychosociale formée par l’UNICEF soutient les victimes d'Ebola à l'est de la RDC.

Noëlla, a UNICEF-trained psychosocial support assistant, worked with the family throughout this difficult time.  She visited the family every day and took them food. “The dad was no longer able to grow food to feed his daughters”, she explains. Noëlla also brought information, advice and comfort to the family.

While no-one knew if Jacques and his mother were going to survive, the two patients started to show signs of recovery and their health improved each day.  Noëlla then undertook a new task: to prepare the family, their loved ones and the wider community for the return of the two survivors. This step is critical because many survivors are rejected and stigmatised.

Noëlla went to meet neighbours, friends and other interested parties to make sure that the return of Jacques and his mum would go well. “I explained that Jacques and his mum posed absolutely no danger to their health”, assured the psychosocial support assistant.  When Jacques and his mum left the treatment centre and returned to the village, Noëlla’s intervention ensured they received a very warm welcome. Jacques started playing ball with his friends and spending his days with the other local children again straight away.


In addition, Noëlla’s work allowed Jacques to find his way back to school.  All of his classmates knew he had just survived Ebola and Jacques was greeted like a hero by his class.

After weeks of fear, suffering and isolation, Jacques has resumed the usual life of a child: he goes to school, he has fun with his friends and he is doted on by his family.

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.