The Democratic Republic of Congo is experiencing its worst-ever outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease.
More than 420 Ebola cases have been reported in eastern Congo. Just under 60 percent of those infected have died from the disease.
FILE – A health worker sprays disinfectant on his colleague after working at an Ebola treatment centre in Beni, Eastern Congo.
This is the country’s tenth known Ebola epidemic, but this one is unusual because more than 60 percent of patients are female.
Among them is Baby Benedicte. She has been alive for only one month, and her short life has already been unimaginably difficult.
She weighs 2.9 kilograms. And she is alone. Her mother had Ebola, and died giving birth to her.
Baby Benedicte has spent the past three weeks of her life in a plastic isolation container without direct human contact. She developed a higher than normal body temperature at eight days old and was moved to a hospital in the town of Beni.
Tests show that Ebola has infected more than 400 people in Beni since the beginning of August. That makes this the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history, after the disease killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the poorest nations in the world. It struggles with civil and political insecurity as well as corruption. This is the 10th outbreak of Ebola to strike the country since 1976, when Ebola was first identified.
Guido Cornale is with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund. He says the size of this outbreak is clear.
“It has become the worst outbreak in Congo, this is not a mystery,” he said.
What is mysterious, however, is why more than 60 percent of cases are women, says government health official Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe.
“This epidemic is feminized…it’s true that the female cases are more numerous than the male cases,” he said.
Bathe would not predict when the outbreak might end, but international health officials have said it may last another six months. Experts are still studying why this epidemic effects mostly women and children, Cornale said.
“So now we can only guess. And one of the guesses is that woman are the caretakers of sick people at home. So if a family member got sick, who is taking care of him or her? Normally, a woman,” he said.
Or a nurse. Many of those affected are health workers. Nurse Guilaine Mulindwa Masika spent 16 days in care after a patient gave the virus to her. She says it was the fight of her life.
“The pain was constant,” she said.
For the sick, the road to recovery is long and lonely. Masika and others who were infected cannot return to work until they are sure the risk of infection is gone. In the main hospital in Beni, families who have recovered live together in a large white shelter. They are kept four meters from human contact.
A nurse covered in protective clothes cares for Baby Benedicte. Her future is unclear. Medical workers are not sure where her father is, or if he is going to come for her.
She sleeps most of the day as the deaths around her continue.