BY HENRY OWINO (Senior Correspondent)
In their miraculous recovery from the killer virus, survivors now have a crucial role to play in eliminating the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, currently ravaging the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Recently, a milestone was reached with the recovery of the 1000th survivor.
Besides the landmark offers responders reason and motivation to enhance their fight against the scourge, agencies involved in eliminating the virus believe survivors have a role to play in shattering the myths around the virus and rampant fear and distrust of health authorities.
These myths are among the impediments to the response to the virus, which has claimed the lives of more than 2000 people since an outbreak was reported in the North Kivu in August last year and since spread to parts of Ituri and South Kivu provinces.
It is second behind the 2013-2016 West Africa outbreak that killed over 11,000 people.
Among other myths is that Ebola is a politically motivated disease spread by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and health agencies to secure donor funding and line their pockets.
There is also belief that home remedies are more effective than formal vaccines.
Some people fear that if they go to the clinic, they would be given an injection to speed their death.
Mr Edouard Beigbeder, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) DRC representative, said survivors had thus become a crucial element in shattering the myths and held gain the community trust and acceptance required to defeat the epidemic.
“When survivors tell communities the reason they are alive is because they sought treatment early, people believe them and are getting the help they need sooner,”Mr Beigbeder said.
“At the same time, having experienced the disease, they are able to offer a level of support and compassion to patients and their family members that is especially meaningful,”Mr Beigbeder added.
Ms Susana Rico, World Food Programme (WFP) Emergency coordinator in the city of Goma, said survivors were motivation to continue the fight against Ebola.
She said the organisation and partners would encourage communities to seek treatment in time to be saved.
“Those are our priorities,” Ms Rico said.
The recovery of 1000 patients is testament to the effectiveness of new tools and treatments as well as a highly effective vaccine rolled out in the DRC.
It is also a result of the UN scaling up its efforts in May to support the DRC government-led response in the areas of public health, assistance to Ebola-affected communities, political engagement, security and strengthened financial management.
“Every survivor gives us reason and motivation to continue to enhance our fight against Ebola,” Mr David Gressly, Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator, said.
The recovery of the 1000th survivor is a major boost for health workers amid previous indications the spiraling outbreak was a source of demotivation for thousands of local health workers and partners.
This has changed on the back of a highly effective vaccine shown to have 97.5 percent effectiveness. It has protected more than 226,000 people.
Results of a recent study also show that over 90 percent of people who come early during their illness stand a great chance of survival.
Seven Ebola treatment centres, and numbers of transit centres have provided care for people in the many areas affected by the Ebola.
This makes it probable for those who seek treatment to survive the virus.
“We have the tools, vaccines and treatments,” said Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, World Health Organisation (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response.
“Surviving this disease is all about trusting the responders – contact tracers, decontamination teams, burial teams, vaccinators, Ebola Treatment Centre staff – who are working tirelessly to protect people from this virus,” Dr Fall added.