A ‘miracle baby’ amidst an Ebola outbreak

Young survivors of an Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are giving hope to affected communities.

By Typhaine Daems
A woman holds a baby in Democratic Republic of Congo
UNICEF/UN0264160/Hubbard

18 January 2019

BENI, Democratic Republic of the Congo  Bénédicte might look like an ordinary baby, but the first few weeks of her life were far from typical.

She was born in December, in a health center in Beni – one of the epicenters of an Ebola outbreak that has struck eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sadly, just a few hours after she was born, Bénédicte lost her mother to Ebola.

Seen as at high risk of being infected herself, Bénédicte was admitted to a nursery set up by UNICEF next to the Ebola treatment center in Beni. At just a week old, the fears she might be infected were confirmed as Bénédicte started to develop the first symptoms of the disease.

After being transferred to the treatment center, Bénédicte remained in isolation for more than a month. Ebola survivors, who are immune to the disease, were on hand to support Bénédicte – cradling and cuddling her and giving her the love that every newborn needs.

The attention paid off. Day by day, Bénédicte’s condition began to improve, and she was eventually declared cured of Ebola. She left the treatment centre in the arms of her father, Thomas, who says that Bénédicte is his first child – and is already offering him hope.

Cases like Bénédicte’s provide a welcome dose of optimism in a region that has been hard hit by Ebola. As of 14 January, there had been more than 600 confirmed cases of Ebola – and more than 400 deaths – during the recent outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As part of its response, UNICEF and partners have provided care and psychosocial support to more than 500 children orphaned or unaccompanied by the Ebola virus in the region. In addition, they have been working to prevent the spread of the disease by offering briefings to teachers and providing hundreds of schools in high-risk areas with hand-washing facilities.

Like Bénédicte, Josué also lost his mother to Ebola. Just a few weeks after giving birth, Josué’s mother was admitted to the treatment centre in Beni, where Josué was entrusted to the care of Jemima, an Ebola survivor working at the nursery.

A few days after they arrived at the childcare centre, Josué’s mother passed away from the virus. Worryingly, Josué father was also showing similar symptoms. Jemima says she was extremely concerned about what all this meant for Josué’s future, especially as he himself could develop symptoms at any moment.

Fortunately, such fears proved unfounded. Josué’s father was eventually confirmed not to have contracted the disease and Josué did not develop symptoms and was therefore able to leave the childcare centre.

An Ebola survivor and baby in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
UNICEF/UN0264159/Hubbard
An Ebola survivor puts 6-month-old Josué to bed at a UNICEF-supported crèche in Beni, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Just ask Joséphine

Ensuring that babies like Josué don’t contract Ebola is an important step in the fight to end the disease. And thanks to the care provided by treatment centres like the one in Beni, those efforts are getting a boost. Just ask Joséphine.

Joséphine tested positive for Ebola eight months into her pregnancy, prompting concerns not just for her own health, but that of her soon-to-be-born baby, too.

Joséphine was admitted to the Ebola treatment centre in Beni, where, after treatment, she was declared free of the disease. But her care didn’t end there. In order to allow the centre to monitor the final days of her pregnancy, Joséphine stayed at a nearby nursery. And, when it came time to deliver the baby, Joséphine was closely supervised to ensure everything was being done to help the newborn baby avoid contracting the virus.

The result? A healthy birth – including two laboratory tests confirming that baby Sylvana was Ebola negative.

Sylvana is the first baby with a mother who tested positive during her pregnancy to be born without the virus at the treatment centre during the latest outbreak. Her example offers motivation – and hope – to an entire community as it works together to end Ebola.