Fighting back against Ebola, one person at a time

Ebola thrives among chaos, conflict and poverty. But as the epidemic continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there’s also reason for hope.

Thomas Nybo and Adrian Brune
11 September 2019

More than four decades since it was discovered, Ebola is no less terrifying for adults and children today than it was when the “haemorrhagic fever” was first identified in a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in 1976.

The country is currently grappling with the second largest Ebola epidemic on record anywhere in the world, with more than 2,000 lives lost and around 3,000 confirmed infections since the epidemic was declared on 1 August 2018. Almost 600 children in the northeast of DRC have died, and thousands more have had their lives devastated, having witnessed death and suffering, lost loved ones, or been forced to spend weeks in isolation because they had contact with someone infected with the virus.

But while countries in the region have been dealing with outbreaks on various scales for decades, what has made this outbreak far more complex is that it is taking place in an active conflict zone – where violence, fear and misinformation have exacerbated the crisis for those living in the DRC's North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces in the east of the country. In response, UNICEF is working with partners to beat this devastating disease. 

Ebola remains a deadly threat. But with vigilance, courage, hope and support, it can be defeated.


Ebola in DRC

Nelson (front row, middle), 5, stands with his uncle Mapenzi (top right), and family in South Kivu province. Nelson's mother died from Ebola on 13 August 2019. She was 24. Mapenzi says he hasn't been able to bring himself to tell Nelson yet. Nelson’s 7-month-old brother continues to receive care at the nearby Ebola treatment centre. “We are living by the grace of God,” Mapenzi says.


Ebola in DRC

A UNICEF-sponsored community engagement team member speaks about Ebola with Kavira, Esther and her family at their home in Goma, North Kivu province. The teams go into the villages every day to meet with residents – to inform, raise awareness, listen to concerns, answer questions, and combat myths and misinformation surrounding the virus.


Ebola in DRC

UNICEF communication for development (C4D) officer Jean Chryso Kataluka (in red vest) leads an Ebola community engagement session in Mwenga health zone in South Kivu province. In addition to raising awareness, these classes allow community members to air questions or concerns they may have about Ebola. The programme also includes a demonstration of safe burial practices, a key to preventing transmission.


Ebola in DRC

Ebola response worker Patrick Musangela Yangoyi leads a demonstration on effective handwashing after UNICEF distributed water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to the family of a woman who recently died of Ebola in Kangola village, South Kivu province. Aid workers monitor those who have been in close contact with someone infected with Ebola victims to ensure they receive urgent treatment if they begin exhibiting symptoms.


Ebola in DRC

Munganga Musambara, 60, stands with his wife, Furaha Namugenaka, and three of their children in South Kivu province. In mid-August, South Kivu province reported confirmed cases for the first time, in Mwenga health zone. UNICEF has been providing direct support to the stricken women and children, including psychosocial care and cash assistance.

UNICEF is working with the government and partners to beat this devastating disease. Doing so will require communities to be full engaged and mobilized. With that in mind, UNICEF has been offering risk communication and engaging with communities to combat myths, misconceptions, fear and stigma surrounding the disease. Click here to find out more about how UNICEF is responding to the latest outbreak.