Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri
The Ebola outbreak in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the tenth outbreak in the country since 1976.
In the two provinces affected by this latest outbreak – North Kivu and Ituri – insecurity and armed conflicts have made the response more difficult than in previous outbreaks.
Children who lose a parent due to Ebola or whose parents are infected by the disease are at risk of being stigmatized, isolated or abandoned, in addition to the experience of losing a loved one. They are particularly vulnerable, and UNICEF is concerned for their wellbeing.
Dieudonné, 13, lost 8 members of his family to Ebola: “They all died of Ebola. It was my entire family. It was my mum initially and then my sisters and aunts followed. [..] I can’t just kill myself, I must continue to live.” UNICEF works with communities to stop the spread of Ebola and protect children.
Kavira was cured of Ebola and is now immune to the disease. She gives her time to help provide care for children admitted in the Ebola treatment center in Beni, supporting their recovery and giving them the love that every child needs.
Jacques and his mother survived the world’s second largest Ebola outbreak in history. Now he’s going back to school. UNICEF has been there every step of the way.
At a glance
What is the impact on children?
In this outbreak, children represent a high proportion among the confirmed cases of Ebola. About 30 per cent of confirmed cases are children, and 40 per cent of those cases were among children below 5 years old. But the impact of the disease on children is not limited to the children that have been or are infected by the disease. It impacts their families and communities when children lose their parents, care-givers and teachers. Also, the outbreak makes basic services such as health care and education much harder to access.
How about children who have lost their parents or caregivers?
UNICEF and its partners have identified more than 2 100 children who have been orphaned or left unaccompanied as a result of the Ebola outbreak. This figure includes children who have lost one or both parents, or primary caregivers to Ebola, as well as those who have been left unaccompanied while their parents are isolated in Ebola treatment centers.
What is being done to fight the outbreak?
National health authorities in DRC are leading the response to the Ebola outbreak, building on their experience with previous outbreaks. They are supported by many local and international partner organizations, such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and Medecins sans Frontieres, all working together to: provide care and treatment to patients; trace people that have been in contact with infected people; inform and work with communities on prevention measures; deliver water, sanitation and hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease; and provide psychosocial care to infected people and their families, etc.
What is UNICEF’s role?
UNICEF works with partners on three broad areas to support the overarching goal of ultimately defeating Ebola and getting to zero cases.
- Risk communication and community engagement to inform, protect and engage communities. We work with influential community and religious leaders, Ebola survivors, psychosocial workers, and mass media, to bring crucial knowledge on symptoms, prevention and treatment, to the households and communities most at-risk. We are learning from continuous research and analysis of community feedback to better understand local needs, fears and concerns, and to adapt the response, to one that is socially and culturally acceptable. We have made changes to the burials process; we are conducting decontamination at night; and we are responding with a lighter footprint. We will keep listening and learning.
- Infection prevention and control to help prevent further spread of the disease. We have installed handwashing units in over 2,600 health facilities, 2,400 schools and 5,150 critical transit sites. We distribute supplies, including thermometers and chlorine to treat water. And we’ve enabled over 2.1 million people to gain access to safe water.
- Psychosocial support to assist families, particularly children affected by the disease. UNICEF and its partners have trained more than 845 psychosocial workers to assist children and families directly affected by the disease, and people who are contacts of those who have contracted the disease. We set up child care centers next to the Ebola treatment centers in Beni and Butembo, where Ebola-survivors look after young children who have been separated from their parents due to Ebola treatment, or orphaned.
In addition, UNICEF works with 2,400 schools across the affected and at-risk areas to build a protective environment for children. This includes distributing health and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, including handwashing units and laser thermometers. Some 31,500 teachers and principals, and 870,000 students have received sensitization or training on Ebola.
What is being done to better raise awareness of communities about Ebola and how to protect themselves?
The goal of community engagement is to help communities to understand, accept, and ultimately lead on doing what’s needed to end the outbreak. UNICEF works with partners embedded in communities to enable the knowledge, skills and resources required to defeat Ebola from the ground up. Community members themselves know best how to raise awareness, detect new cases, enable culturally appropriate and safe and dignified burials, and help decontaminate households and other transmission sites. We need to listen to their needs and provide them with the tools required, be it information or materials.
Is there a vaccine against Ebola?
Yes, a vaccine exists against this strain of Ebola. In the vaccination efforts, UNICEF’s role is to inform communities on the vaccine and ways to prevent against the disease. Vaccines are given for free and on a voluntary basis to health workers, and to persons who have been in contact with infected persons and to contacts of these persons.
Ruth, a caregiver at the Ebola Treatment Centre of Butembo, plays with a baby inside a nursery for babies and young children affected by the virus in North Kivu. Ruth, who survived Ebola and is immune to the virus, returned to the centre to help children whose mothers are suffering from Ebola by cradling, feeding and holding them.
A pastor talks to his church before leading them in an activity to raise awareness about Ebola in Beni. UNICEF and its partners have deployed more than 650 staff to work with Government, civil society, churches, and NGOs to raise awareness about the best hygiene and behavioural practices to prevent Ebola from spreading.
After learning that handwashing is among the best ways to protect yourself against the deadly Ebola virus, a group of school children wash their hands at a UNICEF hand-washing station at their school.