By the Associated Press
BENI, Congo (AP) – Leoni Kahumbu remembers the night that her 15-year-old daughter, Pascaline, showed signs of ebola for the first time. She found her fainted on the bathroom floor, blood everywhere.
She did not even have the strength to stand up … I called an ambulance & # 39 ;, said Kahumbu. Experts came to their home the next day to disinfect the house. The 48-year-old and her three other children were isolated, but were not infected with the often deadly virus.
Pascaline survived. She was one of the first people to receive mAb114, one of five experimental treatments approved for use during the last Ebola outbreak in Congo.
Now she and other survivors now have to deal with the emotional toll of returning to nervous communities where they can be avoided. "Thank God that I am still alive," said another survivor, Dr. Maurice Kakule Muchunga, one of the many health workers who have become infected.
This is the first time that an Ebola outbreak has occurred in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in Congo, densely populated areas with an estimated 1 million displaced by countless armed groups fighting against the rich natural resources. Ninety cases have been confirmed as Ebola, including 48 deaths.
Health officials are not only faced with the challenge of fighting a deadly virus in what is in fact a war zone, but also to push back against possible stigma and fears for the unknown.
"Although I was negative about ebola, all my friends are scared of me," said Leoni, who tested negatively on Ebola and came home to destroy all the family's possessions to prevent the virus from spreading. "I watch TV all day, and when I leave, whisper and fingers point to me as the parent of a child who is suffering Ebola."
Psychologists visit the family at least twice a day and help them to adapt.
The family lives in a neighborhood in the city of Beni, the largest urban area of the region. Some other survivors come from many smaller communities where information can take longer to reach.
Last week, the Catholic bishop of the local diocese of Butembo-Beni made a point to be vaccinated in the village of Mangina, where the outbreak was diagnosed, to encourage others to present themselves to health officials, said the Ministry of Health in Congo. Traditional healers were trained in the prevention of Ebola.
The ministry also warned of a rumor circulated on social media that said eating onions would guard against Ebola. "It & # 39; s UNTRUE!" Said the ministry. "Apart from giving a bad breath that can keep people away from you, onions do not have a protective effect."
More worrisome is the local resistance to health professionals trying to promote safe funerals, which are crucial for preventing the outbreak, as the Ebola virus is spread through body fluids of those who are infected, including the dead.
"In some communities, we experience fear and anger against Red Cross teams who come to bury the deceased," said Dr. Balla Conde, head of emergency operations at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in a statement.
Leoni and her daughter Pascaline also illustrate another trend in this Ebola outbreak, one that health officials have been unable to explain.
The majority of the confirmed and probable cases of Ebola in this outbreak are women and children, the highest percentage of the 10 outbreaks of Congo since the virus was first identified in 1976.
About a quarter of the group is younger than 19, said spokesman Yves Willemot with the U.N. children's agency. It is too early to say why children and women are the most affected, he added.
The hospital in the village of Mangina has been in the epicenter "and normally you get more women and children who visit health centers," Willemot said. In addition, "more health professionals are women than men."
Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, the representative of UNICEF in Congo, offered another possible reason: "Women are the primary caregivers for children, so if they are infected with the disease, there is a greater risk that children and families become vulnerable."
While health professionals try to control this outbreak, according to the Chinese Ministry of Health, more than 5,400 people have been vaccinated so far.
Already more than 60 children have become orphans or have left behind without supervision because parents are detained in treatment centers for Ebola. "Some children have lost large parts of their family and become isolated," Rotigliano said.
In an attempt to normality for children in the region, the school year starts on Monday as planned, but the young students will find a new topic on the agenda.
Washing hands with chlorinated water will be made available at the entrances of 250 schools and teachers will be newly instructed in Ebola and how to stay safe.