Two-month-old Lahya Kathembo became an orphan one day. Her mother succumbed to Ebola on a Saturday morning. Her father died at sunset.
They had been ill for more than a week before health workers persuaded them to seek treatment, neighbors said. They believed that their illness was the work of people who were jealous of their newborn daughter, a community organizer said, seeking the guidance of a traditional spiritual healer. For the most part, because so many patients choose to stay home. In this way, they unknowingly infect caregivers and their mourners.
"People wait until the last minute to bring their family members, and when they do, it's complicated for us," says Mathieu Kanyama, director of health promotion at the Ebola treatment center in Beni, of the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) is operated. "There are doctors here, not wizards."
Nearly a year after the outbreak, which killed more than 1
Health teams are now going from door to door with megaphones to spread the message.
"Anyone who has died develops someone's fever," explains Dr. Gaston Tshapenda, head of the Ebola response in Beni for the Congolese Ministry of Health, told his teams.
Fear of Treatment Centers
Many people still do not believe that Ebola is real, health experts say, inhibiting efforts to control the spread of the disease.
Ebola symptoms They are also similar to common killers such as malaria and typhoid fever. Therefore, those who are afraid to go to a treatment center at home often try to treat themselves with paracetamol to lower the fever.
But unlike these other illnesses, the patient has to be isolated from Ebola and kept away from the family.
Dr. Maurice Kakule, one of the first Ebola patients in the outbreak, after treating a sick woman at his clinic, is now trying to help the sick in and around Beni near the border with Uganda.
He and other survivors who are now immune to the disease are running a motorcycle taxi ambulance. After receiving a call for help, they go home, insure the sick, and seek medical care without infecting others.
The most common fear among people is that they only leave an Ebola treatment center in a body bag, says Kakule.
"Some have heard of the Ebola problem, but there were no survivors in their family," he said. "Since their relatives died in a treatment center, they believe that people are being killed there, and therefore they categorically refuse to go there."
Humanization of Care
They also fear that they are dying alone of health care personnel from head to toe with protective clothing.
In order to humanize the care of patients in isolation, the ALIMA Ebola Treatment Center in Beni places some patients in their own transparent room, the so-called "CUBE", where they can see visitors from their beds. Others share a room with another patient and a glass window where relatives can gather.
While there is no approved treatment for Ebola, patients in eastern Congo can participate in clinical trials. This is a welcome relief from the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa when many patients entered Ebola Centers to never come out alive. More than 11,000 people died.
The measures needed to prevent the spread of Ebola are still difficult for many to accept.
"We must not forget that you have Ebola when you're sick. Somewhere outside of your family, with a 50% chance of dying to your loved ones alone," Dr. Joanne Liu, President of MSF, who is helping to fight the outbreak. "I do not blame people for not finding this attractive, even though we're conducting a clinical trial."
The day after the death of Baby Lahya's parents, a morgue team in protective clothing carried their carefully wrapped bodies to a truck for a funeral procession to a Muslim graveyard on the outskirts of town.
In the background was the hammering of workers who were building more space at the nearby treatment center to accommodate the growing number of patients.
Lahya developed fever, but was tested negative for Ebola. The child with the round cheeks and the gold earrings is initially in an orphanage, while his 3-year-old sister is cared for by neighbors who both want to raise.
However, the sisters have to wait a little longer to be reunited – their adoptive father and their former nanny have both been tested positive for Ebola and are being treated.
"I've lost my whole family."
The fateful decision to avoid treatment centers is tracking survivors like 24-year-old Asifia Kavira. I've had Ebola with eight of her relatives.
Health teams came to the house in Butembo to persuade them to get treatment. However, most of the family members said they wanted to treat their fevers at home. After three days of negotiations, Kavira finally agreed to seek help, believing she was on the brink of death.
She would be the only one who would survive.
Her mother, grandmother, brother, and four other relatives all died at home. An older sister came to her at the treatment center, but medical care came too late.
"I tell people now that Ebola exists," says Kavira, "because that's how I lost my whole family." Voice of America (VOA)