Seven grave diggers dressed in medical smocks, surgical gloves and plastic boots lifted the coffin from the back of a truck and began to pick their way through more than 200 fresh burial mounds, whose simple wooden crosses cast long shadows.
Masika Kahongya was 19 and newly married when she died last month after contracting the Ebola virus. She now lies in a crowded forest clearing outside the town of Beni, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a few meters from the grave of her three-month-old son, Innocent.
The mother and child are among 1,803 people killed in the Ebola outbreak since the first cases were confirmed near Beni exactly a year ago. Surpassed only by the epidemic that claimed more than 11,000 lives in west Africa from 2014-16, it is the longest and deadliest in Congo’s history.
Each of the country’s previous nine outbreaks since 1976, when the virus was first identified, occurred in remote regions and were controlled within three months. This time, thousands of health professionals have been deployed and more than 170,000 people have received an effective trial vaccine. Yet May, the tenth month, was the deadliest so far, and a further 349 cases were confirmed in July.
The accepted explanation for the failure of the international response has been to blame the low-level conflict that has destabilised eastern Congo for two decades. The presence of armed groups in North Kivu province made it difficult to reach victims and administer vaccinations, the country’s health ministry and the World Health Organization have said.
Some members of the response effort have been attacked and medical centres burnt down. But dozens of interviews with health professionals, aid workers, victims and their families paint a more complex picture of a response that has succeeded in some areas and failed in others.
On the red-dirt roads across the region, tens of thousands of people are stopped each day to have their hands disinfected and temperatures taken. In the new Ebola treatment centres, doctors deliver expert care.
The problem, according to the health ministry, is that up to 40 per cent of Ebola victims ignore official advice to visit such centres, and instead die at home and infect others.
Source: Financial times