Surviving and helping to survive

In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola survivors are using their immunity to help the youngest victims of the disease.

Typhaine Daems (translated from French by Adjah Benedict)

09 January 2020

“I was infected by the Ebola virus and I was cured”, relates Ruth who had survived the second deadliest Ebola epidemic in history. The young woman started feeling the first signs of the Ebola virus sickness in the month of December 2018 and immediately made her way to the specialized medical teams.

“I had to come out alive”

Arriving at the Ebola treatment centre in Butembo, the blood tests confirmed that Ruth was infected with the Ebola virus disease. “I was convinced that I was going to die”, admits Ruth who didn’t know much about the disease at that time. Her close relatives, who were also badly informed, told her she would die if she stepped foot at the Ebola treatment centre.

“It was scary but I fought back with the help of psychologists”, explains Ruth while admitting that she wouldn’t have recovered without the assistance of psychologists and psychosocial agents. “They told me that I would be able to recover and that I had nothing to fear”, recalls Ruth who was supported each day. “I recovered”, proudly explains the young woman who immediately – at her turn – helped people affected by the disease.

It is only natural that she started taking care of babies and young children in the crèche established by UNICEF close to the Ebola treatment centre. “I am now keeping children who are separated from their mothers because they are infected with the virus”, pursues Ruth while holding little Nelie in her arms.


“They are only children”

While only 4 months old, Nelie was separated from her mother who is under the care of a neighbouring treatment centre. As a nanny, Ruth offers a vital attachment figure to the children like Nelie who, despite the circumstances, always need much cuddles, love and care as any baby. Parents, who know that their children are in good hands, can then focus on their treatment.

For children who have lost their parents, there are more long term needs. The psychosocial workers strive to keep the children with their close relatives or with host families. Some months ago, Ruth took care of a little girl who had lost her mother. For weeks, the young woman made sure that Christ Vie didn’t lack anything while waiting for the family to come back for her and to care for her.

Since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 8,000 children orphaned or separated by the disease have been cared for by UNICEF.

UNICEF’s response to the Ebola epidemic is supported by the World Bank, the European Commission – European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid OperationsGavi - 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, the World Bank Group’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, the United Kingdom and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.