Monday , 26 August 2019
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Ebola survivors comfort sick and frightened in Congo outbreak

Most health care workers need a surgical mask, goggles, hooded coveralls, an apron, rubber boots and two pairs of gloves to avoid catching the virus that typically kills around half those it infects.

The outfits are hot, and in the stifling tropical temperatures of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo this limits the time they can spend with patients fighting for their lives in isolation units.

But Masika has antibodies in her system after she won her own battle against Ebola last year, and she now has immunity.

The 33-year-old mother of six can spend entire days with patients at a treatment centre in the North Kivu town of Beni, offering a comforting presence among a crowd of faceless figures with names written on their suits in marker pen.

Masika is one of dozens of survivors who are providing care – and much-needed human contact – to some of the littlest victims of the second-worst Ebola epidemic on record.

Of the more than 1,260 confirmed and probable Ebola cases, 28% are children, according to figures from the World Health Organization. More than 800 people, including at least 248 under the age of 18, have died since the outbreak began in August.

The outbreak is surpassed only by one in West Africa in 2013-16, which is believed to have killed more than 11,000 people.

Masika lost 10 relatives to the virus; four of those infected in her family survived.

“It was as if Ebola had chosen my family,” she said.

She was admitted to the same treatment centre where she now works in September and stayed there for 21 days, battling horrific symptoms.

“It’s like suffering from all the diseases of Congo at the same time,” she said. “I felt bad all over my body: headache, stomach ache, diarrhoea, vomiting, tiredness.”

Masika’s experience inspired her to join the fight against Ebola, comforting sick and frightened children who have to be isolated from their families and familiar surroundings to avoid infecting others. She is one of at least 23 former patients employed at the centre in Beni, which is run by the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA).

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