Ebola epidemic in Congo: not a natural disaster, a man-made disaster

The funeral of a two-year-old Ebola victim: the epidemic is not a natural disaster.

On the last Monday morning of February, Jean-Christopher Shaq, who led the Ebola operations in Port Bhutto, Congo, carefully examined the attack on MSF’s Ebola Medical Center: Burnt wooden skeleton, destroyed generator, a burning car… Shaq’s face is full of anger and exhaustion, and two deep wrinkles are formed at the base of the nose. He said softly: “The people here are not willing to accept the existence of this disease. They think that our vaccine has brought them death and that the government wants to destroy their South Germans.”

So they decided to rise up and resist. That night, about 30 men rushed out of the bushes, attacked the football-sized medical center with a machete and bow and arrow, and then put a fire. The patient was evacuated that night. The flyers distributed by these attackers read: “We have more ‘surprise’.” Three days later, Shaq received a WhatsApp message, which stated that he should die.

No one knows where the attackers have been to the hospital, what they have done, whether they have been exposed to highly infected bodies, and where they have been taken. This is really a disaster.

Since August 18 last year, Dr. Shaq, the highly respected Congo (golden epidemiologist), has been fighting the Ebola virus in North Kivu. Entrusted by the Ministry of Health, he led the Ebola operations in Butembo Port in the epidemic center. Under his leadership, members of the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and Médecins sans Frontières are fighting against the second largest Ebola epidemic in history – more than this infection and death, only from 2013 to 2016 The Ebola outbreak broke out in West Africa between the years. This is also the biggest epidemic in the Congo, the first Ebola virus infection in the country took place in 1976.

According to the World Health Organization, as of August 21 this year, there were 2,829 confirmed cases and 94 suspected cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A total of 1965 people were killed. In fact, this does not have to go to this point, because this country actually has all the conditions to defeat the virus.

In 2015, at the end of the West African epidemic, virologists put into use a new vaccine with good results. It is now being used on a large scale for the first time in the eastern part of the Congo and has been considered very effective to date. By mid-March, 87,390 people had been vaccinated to control the virus. All people who may be in contact with Ebola patients are vaccinated. With the new vaccine, this battle could have been easily won, but things are far from that simple.

| Ebola accomplice – ignorance and war |
Doctors and nurses at the medical base have been wearing protective clothing and gloves. The Ebola virus is highly contagious and is transmitted not through the air but through the blood, saliva, urine and vomit of the infected person. When the initial symptoms appear, the patient is contagious, and more than half of them will eventually die in pain.

The situation in North Kivu clearly tells us that the epidemic is not a natural disaster, they are aggravated by human error, and few places on the planet make such serious mistakes as people in eastern Congo. The “African World War” that began in 1998 has caused more than 3 million deaths, and has not really stopped yet. The conflict between the government and different rebels continues.

No one knows where the attackers have been to the hospital, what they have done, whether they have been exposed to highly infected bodies, and where they have been taken.

This is the first time Ebola has erupted in such a conflict-ridden area, and the battle against the epidemic has become extremely difficult, because the virus has found an alliance here – in the hilly terrain of North Kivu, hundreds of militia Organized for gold and smelting iron ore, for the money and power to fight for years, threatening the people and raping thousands of women. Ignorance and war became accomplices of the virus, making it difficult for vaccination initiatives to overcome the disease. In addition, the epidemic may also spread to neighbouring countries Rwanda and Uganda, as people continue to flee away from violence.

Vaccination projects for high-risk groups have been launched several times. “Absolutely can’t surrender,” Shaq said. He is one of the most experienced Ebola “hunters” who have worked in the crisis-ridden West Africa as early as 2014. “Here, I am like a general who commands the army,” he said.

He stood on a wooden platform full of petrol, overlooking the vaccine storage warehouse that was completely burned after being attacked on the night before, and there was still a lot of fire left over. He said that his biggest enemy is no longer a virus, “it is ignorance.” People here are deeply influenced by witchcraft and conspiracy theories, and too easily induced and manipulated by politicians who use the epidemic for personal purposes.

Dr. Shaq, who led the Ebola operations in Butembo Port: “It must not surrender.

| About Ebola’s Conspiracy Theory |
“I have to protect my comrades,” Shaq said. At the medical center, the first members of the MSF team wearing white protective clothing and rubber boots and wearing plastic glasses began to disinfect the building. The villagers’ anger is rising.

“Leave here!” a woman’s face shouted distortedly.

“Ebola is a lie!” another woman roared.

Gratia Karengro is one of the people Shaq wants to protect. This young psychiatrist is the so-called “risk communicator” sent by the World Health Organization. He always rushes to the village before taking the ambulance, disinfection team and vaccination team. When these teams enter the village, he will accompany him. His mission is to prevent attacks and to explain to people that those wearing protective clothing do not want their lives, but want to protect them.

About 50 people surrounded the Karengro, as if the villagers in half of the village were gathered in front of the medical center. “You can’t attack the medical center,” Karengro explained. “Otherwise the virus will spread farther and farther.”

“We don’t want your Ebola!” a woman screamed.

“You can’t hide the patient,” Karengro said. “So you will be infected.”

Behind him is the isolation ward of the hospital. Protective clothing hangs on the hooks of these empty rooms, and fragments of the mirror are scattered on the ground. “They think that everything is out of the government’s imagination, and the purpose is not to allow them to vote in the election,” Karengro said. In December last year, people in the Beni and Butembo port areas were unable to participate in the presidential election because of the epidemic, which largely caused the escalation of the conflict and the conspiracy theories became more and more intense.

Some people say that Ebola does not exist at all. Everything that happens here is done by the government with a mysterious poison and witchcraft. Others, while convinced of the existence of the virus, believe that it is these medical teams that fight the virus to spread the virus, the purpose is to make money.

Karengro walked towards his car. He is very tired. For months, he has been devoted to his work. He knows how unscrupulous these militiamen are. Now 29 years old, he is from North Kivu, and he knows it very well since he was a child.

“The resistance to our medical team is getting stronger and stronger,” he said.

When he left, he heard countless voices behind him: “This is a warning!”

| Useless talks |
Just after 10 am the next day, Shaq was sitting in his car. Every morning, he hosts the meeting, and the participants are all members of relevant NGOs. The most important issue at the meeting was not the three new Ebola attacks that occurred the previous day, not the 12 incidents against vaccination, nor the fact that only a few medical teams can leave the hospital, four of which must The facts escorted by the army.

The only thing that matters for Shaq is that the virus can’t take advantage. “If you are not afraid that they will dismantle you with a machete, then get off your car and start your work. Give them a vaccination, negotiate with the parties, talk to the residents, talk to the pastor, and talk to everyone.”

This is a vicious circle: the stronger the resistance, the more serious the fear of the medical team; the more obvious the militarization of the medical team, the stronger the fear and resistance of the villagers. Shaq did not like the medical team’s model of military escorts, but he did not want his comrades to die. “After all, there are constant conflicts in the war,” he said.

At present, the epidemic is developing in Ukhove. The village and its surroundings are classified as “red areas” – extremely dangerous. Here, people who have been exposed to Ebola patients are unable to find it, and vaccination programs are not implemented.

“If we can’t find these people,” Shaq said, “the virus will continue to spread and our battles will become meaningless.” The problem is that there are currently no doctors at work in the small health center in Ujoway. Because it is too dangerous here.

Six days ago, a rebel army asked a nursing staff in the isolation ward to give them $1,000 because they thought Ebola brought him wealth. When the man could not give them the money, they dragged him into the bushes and cut his head.

Shaq wants to meet with the leader of the local militia organization Maggie Magee. Before each battle, Maggie-Maji’s militia will apply magic potions to them, allegedly protecting them from harm. The eight leaders of Shaq and Maggie-Maji agreed on the meeting time. “Only I negotiate with them,” he said in the car. “Resistance can be reduced. Most of them want money and participate in sharing benefits. In their eyes, doctors make a lot of money.” Shaq’s voice was hoarse. He talks to his wife in the capital Kinshasa, which is 1,600 kilometers away every night. Sometimes he only hopes that everything will pass as soon as possible, so that he can go to the zoo with the children.

The team opened a road in Butembo Port. Here, advertisements are often painted on the walls of the main street, beer, soda, and wireless communication. However, unlike Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, there are no banners or posters warning the Ebola outbreak. “Even if it hangs, it doesn’t help,” Shaq said. “The people here will tear them down soon. Advertising will only irritate them.”

Soon after, Shaq sat in the conference hall of Ukhove Village and met with eight militia leaders. One is wearing a leopard hat like the former dictator Mobutu, and one wearing an orange suit. An old village policeman stood beside the flagpole, blowing a trumpet, and the monotonous tunes reciprocated. Shaq repeatedly emphasized to his colleagues that the most important thing is to express respect and never let Maggie Magee feel that he has been despised. “In that case, they will become very dangerous and will kill or hijack us.”

About 60 people gathered in this room, sitting on wooden benches or plastic chairs. “Why can’t you explain to your people how dangerous this disease is? I can’t do it. It is you who are in power and more powerful than the president. I hope that you can use this power.”

These men nodded.

“In this battle, your weapons are meaningless. Ebola will make everything here worse,” Shaq said.

Then the militia leaders began to speak. One person said that there were doctors in his village who told the villagers that there was no Ebola at all. These doctors are the income of the Ebola medical team, and they did so in retaliation.

The other complained that people who did not get Ebola were also sent to the hospital. The man wearing a leopard skin hat said that we should probably let those people die, so that others would believe that there is such a disease.

Training organized by the Ministry of Health in Ukhove Village: “Our battle is meaningless.”

Everyone laughed. The talks proceeded in this way until they almost all began asking Shaq to give money or provide job opportunities. In this case, they will report the infected person and the situation will be controlled. Shaq promised to come again next Monday, when Maggie-Maji will bring “the right workforce”, and Shaq will see if he can hire people who can read and write.

“I think that the situation will improve after this meeting.” He said on his way home. Shaq has always been faithful. He used to be a pastor, but he later gave up the job and began to study epidemiology because he “cannot stand the eyes of children who died because of cholera.” These children did not receive any help in their village because the militia controlled the entire area.

In another car of the team, a WHO employee said on the way back: “The talks will not be useful at all.”

| The Ebola virus that won again |
The next morning, Karengro, who was responsible for soothing the villagers, came to the village of Makangala on the slopes of the valley. A day ago, a 21-year-old male nurse died in Ebola.

When Karengro arrived at the home of the deceased, more than 30 people gathered on a black rock next to it. They silently watched the medical team members wearing protective clothing scattered the entire family of the deceased in the dust in front of the house and sprayed the wall with chlorine solution.

“You should stop spraying the poison!” said someone on the rock. The father of the deceased, a short fat man in a red Polo shirt, stood by the wall, tired and scared.

“You go away!” shouted the man on the rock.

The father said that they did not know that there was such a virus in the hospital, so they thought that their son was poisoned. The mother is responsible for taking care of him and trying to cure him with herbs. He felt that the mother of the child was also infected. Now she is sitting under a tree in a listless manner, sometimes suddenly standing up and picking up a photo of her son from the ground and staring at it.

“Until he died, we realized that he was infected with Ebola. Now I became an enemy in the village because I called the Ebola medical team.” The father said.

At this time, a blue plastic chair next to him shattered and scared him. At first he didn’t see the flying stones until Karengro’s hand quickly lifted and grabbed a stone. Karengro ran to the rock and tried to calm the excited villagers. He told them that the government did not want to kill them because there was no country without people. Then someone hit a colleague of his. “Don’t react,” he said. He continued to persuade these angry people, and finally the medical team finally withdrew, and a fire was burned behind the house, burning the last thing of the deceased – his mattress.

Gracia Karengro, the World Health Organization’s “risk communicator”: “You can’t hide the patient.”

On the same day, Shaq had dinner and returned to the old Belgian hotel where he stayed. He also believed that the talks with the militia the previous day would bring about some changes. At 17:30 in the evening, he heard a dull shooting sound, which was scattered at first, and then several times.

“I need an armored car,” Shaq said. However, there is no such thing at present. “Can’t wait any longer,” he yelled. “Get it right now.” He got into a silver buggy and held three phones in his hands. “They are still shooting, I am on the way.” He hung up and the car was moving in the dark eucalyptus. He knows that his combat operations are likely to fall apart.

Before the entrance of the MSF Medical Center, the police’s dark blue pickup truck was parked, and the police officers stood there in blue uniforms, only to see their outlines in the dark. Not long ago, behind the medical center, a policeman was beheaded. No one dares to step into the destroyed medical center because of concerns about the virus.

Burn the mattress contaminated with the virus.

Shaq walked past these men. One of them said to him that the battle was over and the attacker escaped. Unfortunately, no one caught him. It was later found that most of the police ran away at the beginning of the attack.

The staff at the medical center told how a machete was rubbed over the head of a Congolese male nurse and inserted into a tree. All the medical staff were hiding. The sick patients ran in a panic in the medical center, and some highly infected patients fled the isolation ward with the virus and ran into the village in the dark.

“Don’t touch anything,” Shaq said. A white MSF’s off-road vehicle was burned down most of the time, a radio communication device continued to smoke, the warehouse was almost completely burned, and the smoke from the molten plastic continued. “What happened to the patient?” Shaq asked a doctor who was blocking the place. Nobody knows. From the faces of doctors and nurses here, you can see the fear of death. Shaq walked through a ward and flashed through the plastic window of the flashlight into the room, shouting the patient’s name, but no one responded.

There is a child lying in room 26. The doctor looked at the list and shouted: “Anita!” The child did not move at all. Shaq stood and shouted again: “Anita?” Still no response. Shaq’s eyes were full of tears. He lost control for the first time. “I want to go in, I can’t let this child lie there.” His staff took a lot of effort and finally prevented him from rushing into the room. Soon after, Shaq wrote a WhatsApp message to his boss in Kinshasa: “32 out of 38 suspected cases fled, 4 out of 12 confirmed cases fled and 1 died.”

The Ebola virus has won another battle.

| Long road ahead |
On the same night, the MSF team decided to evacuate their health care workers and rumors about their abduction. Less than 10 o’clock the next day, they stood on the runway of the small red clay airport in the west of the city, waiting for the UN World Food Program helicopter to lead them away.

On the same day, a security director at the World Health Organization said that they must be fully armed and that more escorts – a total of 180 people – would be needed to protect the World Health Organization’s hotels, equipped with peacekeeping forces to protect their headquarters and hospitals. He said: “The dead can’t save someone else’s life.”

Shaq said that more infrastructure should be built for the villagers, such as wells, hospitals and schools. This may be the case: if these people do not destroy the fight against the virus, they will have to buy them.

Three days later, the medical center was reopened. In a statement, Médecins Sans Frontières criticized the police and the military for their large investment, saying that doing so would be counterproductive and deepen the villagers’ sense of distrust.

Early in the morning of March 9, the medical center in Butembo Port was attacked again. On March 14, another medical center in Lubero was also attacked.

Shaq is still continuing his work, meeting and negotiating with the rebel leaders to explain the villagers.