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​Closing the circle - an update on Ebola from on the ground in DRC

By France Hurtubise, Canadian Red Cross
Twenty-four years after my very first mission with the Red Cross, I am grateful to be back in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The context this time is totally different from the one that had brought me to this country for my debut in the humanitarian world. Then it was a man-made catastrophe, the genocide in Rwanda. Now, it is nature’s work. Ebola, the deadly virus that killed thousands of people in West Africa, is back for the ninth time in the DRC.
On May 8, 2018, the Government of DRC confirmed an outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Equateur Province in the north west of the country.
Mbandaka, capital of the Equateur province, welcomes me for a short two weeks. Running more than 1,700 km from Kinshasa to Kisangani, the Congo River passes through Mbandaka and is synonymous for survival. On their pirogues, families travel to meet, farmers bring their produce to the market and to passing ships. Mbandaka, a city of more than one million people is one of the sites where cases of the Ebola Virus Disease were diagnosed more than a month ago.
France Hurtubise pictured here boarding the planeOn board a small United Nations plane, a group of foreign aid workers - mundeles, white men - several Congolese Red Cross colleagues, the Minister of Health on a reconnaissance mission, and myself from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies arrive in Mbandaka. The twin otter drops us at noon on a short dirt track in 40-degree heat.
The Minister of Health made the trip to take the pulse of the situation, but also to note the execution of work that he has entrusted exclusively to the Congolese Red Cross. In the afternoon I attend a training session on this topic: how to say adieu to an Ebola victim in a way that is both dignified and safe. The Ebola virus is transmitted by secretions and body fluids, and a victim can infect another 30 people. Traditionally relatives wash the body of the dead with their bare hands for entry into the afterlife. Funeral practices can be one of the most dangerous times for the disease to be transmitted.
The work of the Red Cross is to convince people that there are situations where it is necessary to change behaviours from the way they have been done in the past and to follow the protocol adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO): to wear a personal protective equipment (PPE), and to disinfect the body, the house, familiar objects.
As I wait for the UN flight to take me to one of the villages where potential cases have been identified, memories flash back in my mind. During the response to the Rwandan genocide, I lived next to a refugee camp on the far away eastern border of Congo, which was Zaire at the time. Four years later, while working for the ICRC, I returned to Kinshasa to cover internal conflicts. The plane lands and closes the loop. Tikala malamu! (Goodbye in Lingala).
Update: On June 28, 2018, the last direct contacts (all those who have been in contact with the last confirmed Ebola case) completed the 21-day incubation period without showing any signs of an Ebola infection. On July 24, 2018, the outbreak was declared over. 

Update on August 2, 2018 : For the second time in a matter of months, Ebola is once again a concern in DRC. If confirmed, this will be the 10th outbreak of Ebola in the DR Congo. It is yet another reminder of the high vulnerability of communities in DRC.

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