Ebola’s return: The virus has killed nearly 2,000 – why is it back?

Saturday, August 10, 2019
By Paul Martin

10 August 2019

Despite a new vaccine meant to wipe out Ebola, the deadly disease is on the rise again. Adrian Blomfield reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo, currently in the grip of the second largest outbreak on record. Pictures by Simon Townsley

This article has an estimated read time of nine minutes

Grinning broadly between dimpled cheeks, Bahati Kasereka clearly thought it was all a jolly wheeze. To his six-year-old eyes, the doctor hovering over him in a decontamination suit must have looked like an astronaut.

The isolation unit in which he had just been placed perhaps resembled one of the tents he had heard about from his soldier father. Revelling in all the attention, Bahati whispered conspiratorially to a figurine of Sheriff Woody from Toy Story on the bed beside him.

From time to time he raised his thumbs towards the strangers peering at him through the unit’s thick plastic walls, as if to say he hadn’t had this much fun for ages.

Bahati may have just days to live. A few hours earlier, he had tested positive for Ebola at a nearby clinic. Being diagnosed with the world’s most terrifying disease clearly meant little to him. Even the journey to the Ebola treatment centre (ETC) in the Congolese town of Beni, escorted by more astronaut-like figures, was just another part of the adventure.

After all, beyond running a temperature and suffering a slight cough, he did not seem particularly ill. But that’s the thing with Ebola, says Blandine Ndeturuye, a Unicef health officer at the centre. ‘Today a patient can be doing well and tomorrow they die.’

Beni’s ETC, like the others dotted across the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a miserable place, haunted by suffering and death. Beni, an attractive town of 300,000-odd people set in verdant hills to the west of the Rwenzori Mountains, has been hit hard by Ebola.

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