Fighting Ebola and Saving Lives in the DRC: Local Staff Remember

Healthcare workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo share what it’s like to confront one of the world’s deadliest viruses

International Medical Corps has worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 1999 providing healthcare, gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and treatment, nutrition support, food security programs, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. More recently, we also have been responding to outbreaks of disease, including Ebola, measles and COVID-19. Over the course of multiple outbreaks of the disease—including the 10th outbreak, which ran from August 2019 to June 2020 and became the second-largest in history—we have conducted more than 2 million screenings for Ebola and trained more than 1,700 health staff in infection prevention and control (IPC) practices.

Through it all, our healthcare staff have shown compassion, commitment—and courage. Here are just a few memories from local healthcare workers at our Ebola treatment center (ETC) in North Kivu, DRC.

“As a nurse, few experiences are more rewarding than a patient or a patient’s family expressing heartfelt gratitude for the difference we’re making in their lives. Moments like this are a simple yet meaningful reminder of the impact that our job has on the community we serve and, ultimately, the health of our country and beyond.

At the start of each Ebola outbreak, I feel fortunate to be able to witness the beginning of the journey that each of my colleagues takes to becoming first responders for the people affected. This unique journey is what make us so special, and often makes up the defining moments that remain in our minds throughout our careers. For me, a defining and lifechanging moment as a nurse is the experience of caring for patients and saving lives. I will never forget this. This has shaped my beliefs about the importance of relationships with patients during treatment and their families during visits. It influences what I do today as a nurse.

I am motivated every day by the enthusiasm and drive that International Medical Corps demonstrates day and night, and our patients appreciate our efforts throughout their lives.”
–Robert Mumbere, Nurse

Robert Mumbere, nurse at Katwa ETC in Butembo.

“As a hygienist, working in Ebola response has shaped my career and helped me grow. It is an experience that will forever remain deep within my heart.

The first time I went into a high-risk zone, I saw patients vomiting, sweating, urinating and defecating at the same time. I approached a patient lying in a pool of vomit and feces, and I was very, very afraid. I had gone through IPC training, so I knew I had to wear personal protective equipment, but the fear was still there. I worried I would not survive.

I have been in the emergency room every single day since, and have stored many memories from this period of the Ebola outbreak. I can recall, by sight, smell and sound, indelible images of people coming in precarious or urgent conditions, or even dead. But for me, choosing to work in the ETC just seemed right. Maybe I like the challenges that come, and mix the good, bad and ugly. For whatever reason, I have been able to be steady during the response.

When people ask me how I got into Ebola response, I tell them I joined the response to stop the virus through proper hygiene. I believe that many of the people we see who are infected would not be if they had been better trained, or better informed, about Ebola prevention measures and how to care for themselves. Training is the key to prevention.”
–Dade Kakule, Hygienist

Kakule Dade disinfecting a staff member who treated patients at Katwa ETC in Butembo.

“The 10th Ebola outbreak was a defining moment in my career as WASH Officer. It caused me to analyze and immediately think about what could have been prevented, and I needed a positive way to make a difference in the lives of others. I began to train myself by learning everything I could about IPC. I started to share what I learned with others, speaking with them about prevention, better choices and healthier living at work. I added extra safety tips and educational material to staff training and patient-discharge instructions. I was determined to do more to save lives.

My passion for prevention strengthened when I became a trainer, promoting prevention measures offered by International Medical Corps’ emergency rapid response team for the 11th and 12th outbreaks of Ebola in the DRC. With a group of other staff trainers, I embarked on a journey where we reached thousands of health staff and community health workers with Ebola prevention messages.

Promoting environmental safety, water safety and other forms of prevention education has enabled me to spread the message to the audiences of all ages. Training is the key to creating the positive health and wellness that will help us live healthier and happier lives.”
–Samuel Vagheni, WASH Officer and IPC Trainer

Ebola survivor at the Katwa ETC.

“Two years ago, I was happily married and full of self-confidence. My husband was a nurse working at the health center. He was special to me and I loved him so much, but he got infected with Ebola at the health center and died. A few weeks later, our one-year-old baby got infected and died, too. As I watched my child die in my hands, I could not believe this was happening to me. Soon after, I also tested Ebola-positive.

The doctors and nurses went above and beyond to save my life, and ensure that I was discharged Ebola-free. The assistance I was offered motivated me to become a caregiver at the ETC, so that I could give other patients the support I had received. I underwent training in IPC, which became my weapon to fight the virus and help other to escape from it.

I remember, when I was taking care of patients all day and night, feeling overwhelmed and overworked. We had five to six patients in bed who needed all of our attention every second, asking, “Will I live or die?” I did not know that managing the care of patients would be so challenging. But I also remembered all the care I got when I was sick, and what a difference that made. So that gave me the motivation to double my attention on my patients, and to realize that I was doing something good.”
–Alphosina Ngongo, Ebola survivor and ETC Caregiver

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