Ebola survivors in DRCongo narrate experience

Ngitsi Kavugho was pregnant when she was infected with the Ebola virus. She and her baby survived. (Credit: WHO/C. Black)
Ngitsi Kavugho was pregnant when she was infected with the Ebola virus. She and her baby survived. (Credit: WHO/C. Black)

On 4 October, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced that the 1000th survivor of the current Ebola outbreak was released from care.
The epidemic, which was declared on 1 August 2018, is the 10th Ebola outbreak in the DRC and is also the country’s largest and longest. There have been more than 3000 people infected and 2000 deaths.

“Today we have 1000 reasons to celebrate, but for each survivor there are two lives lost,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO), Director-General. “We must harness our joy and our grief to end this outbreak. Even better than a survivor is someone who never gets Ebola in the first place because there is no Ebola to get.”

Each survivor has a unique story of how they overcame the disease and the impact it has had on their lives. Here are some of their stories and what WHO and partners are doing to help them to lead healthy lives.

Survivor stories

Kanyere Vwatire

“I didn’t believe Ebola was real. In my life, I had never believed in the existence of the Ebola disease, in spite of everything that I was told about it. I felt devastated after my mother was killed by the Ebola virus disease but I refused to heed doctors’ advice that I should go to the Katwa Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) for screening, even though my father was hospitalized there.

The day when my illness got worse, I rushed to a private health centre known as Bon Berger. The doctor at this centre also urged me to go to the Katwa ETC, but I refused. I started vomiting blood, but I still refused to go to the ETC.

When I realized that they could refer me to the ETC at any time, I decided to run away. I removed the intravenous perfusion line and sought refuge with one of our neighbours, a police commanding officer. But from there I was made to go to the Katwa ETC during the night.

Dear parents and neighbours, you should know that Ebola does exist. It can be treated if one rushes to the ETC immediately after the early signs show up. I am standing before you as living proof!”

As Kanyere explains, some people in this part of DRC are suspicious of outsiders and are reluctant to seek care from Ebola Treatment Centres. The mistrust is a result of years of conflict in the area and a difficult political context.

Kasereka Miyisa Jophet

“It all started with my son. He fell ill and we went to a local hospital. A patient touched my baby and he was contaminated after 2 weeks. We did not know it was Ebola; we were ignorant. We went to another general hospital and after 2 days my baby died.

In November 2018, my wife fell sick and we thought it was poison. We went to see a traditional doctor who tested her and confirmed to us it was poison. He tried to cure her, but after one week my wife died too.

After this, my mother became sick as she was close to my wife. We started doubting it was poison. At that point, friends working for the response intervened. My mother did the swab test and they found out she had Ebola. But by that time, she was very sick and died in the hospital. At this point, my dad and I went to the Ebola Treatment Centre and found that we both had Ebola too. We stayed 17 days at the ETC in November 2018. We both survived.

I saw other lullaby singers helping parents with children and that’s when I decided I also wanted to help others. I have been working as a lullaby singer (survivors who work at the Child Care Centre in Butembo caring for children whose parents are receiving treatment in an Ebola Treatment Centre) for 6 months now and many babies have come to the centre. I work 6 days a week; it’s a difficult time for me but caring for babies gives me a purpose in life and I feel very proud.”

Rachelle Kavugho

“My husband and I were taking care of a patient in Butembo, we were by his bedside. A few days later, the patient passed away. After the doctor pronounced him dead, he assured us that he did not die of Ebola. Later, after an autopsy, they said it was Ebola.

My husband died four days later. All I can remember is that he died in my arms. A week after my husband’s death, my mother-in-law passed away. After both deaths we were scared. We hid. We knew they were going to come and look for us.

Then, after a few weeks, my first-born daughter fell sick and we had to bring her to the hospital. The doctors told me that I needed to get tested and treated also. During these exchanges, I accepted. I had lost a lot of family members already and was five months pregnant. I accepted to be cared for and went in for treatment.

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My daughter passed away. This is my third pregnancy. I am now healed. I now tell others the same advice I received. I tell them if they do not feel well to go and get treatment, I tell them that I received treatment and I am cured now.”

Kavira Kaviavu Matumaini

Kavira Kaviavu Matumaini, 24, was treated at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Katwa, Butembo, where she stayed one month. She loved the work of the lullaby singers. After she recovered she decided to join them. “I love the community and it feels like a family here.”

Dr Maurice Kakule Mutsunga

“We survivors of Ebola, we know intimately the gravity of the disease. It is an extremely contagious, often deadly disease. We want to give everyone the chance to survive like we did. We tell people not to resist, not to be discouraged, to seek treatment as soon as possible, to increase the chances of survival,” said Dr Maurice Kakule Mutsunga, President of the Survivors of Ebola Association, North Kivu and Ituri, and focal point WHO Ebola Survivors Programme. “Right after I became healthy again, I started working with other survivors to take action, to become involved in the response against the disease. Survivors are involved in outreach to the community, we speak about our experience. Others work in the Ebola Treatment Centres. Some even help transport people from their homes to seek treatment, as often patients are refused emergency transportation. I have helped transport people by motorcycle to reach the treatment centre.”

Pregnant women and their babies are surviving

Among the survivors are pregnant women infected with Ebola and their babies. Historically, babies born to mothers with Ebola are born already infected with the virus. These infants almost always die. In this outbreak, however, there have been several who have survived.

Survivors programme

Vaccines and treatments are now available to help stop the spread of the virus and save lives. So far, more than 230,000 people have received a highly effective vaccine. For those who seek medical care at the first signs of illness, the survival rate may be higher than 90%, based on new research.

Most of the 1000 survivors are enrolled in a follow-up programme run by the Ministry of Health and WHO. Their health is monitored for one year, during which they receive regular check-ups on various aspects of their health from eyes to psychological support. Survivor clinics are operational in several locations in the country, with teams composed of physicians, psychologists, lab technicians, nurses and hygienists.

In April 2019, WHO and the Ministry of Health held a one-week eye clinic in Beni to monitor and treat eye complications and to train local ophthalmologists.

Faustin Kalivanda

As he does every month, Faustin Kalivanda, a father of four, returns to the Beni General Hospital for a check-up. But this isn’t a routine check-up. Kalivanda has survived Ebola and was under treatment at this very hospital until November. He lost his wife and their five-year-old daughter Ester to the disease.

“I want to thank all the doctors in the Ebola Treatment Centre, all the hygienists, who kept the treatment room clean, the psychologists who gave us advice on the disease and psychological support to bring us back to life. And all others who are part of the response team, for helping us, for providing food. For all that, I want to thank them,” said Ebola survivor Faustin Kalivanda.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was first published by the World Health Organisation on Medium.

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