Around the same time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the ongoing Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo a “public health emergency of international concern,” Associated Press photographer Jerome Delay was at the epicenter of the epidemic: the city of Beni. In the last year, more than 1,700 have died, and the rate of infections isn’t abetting, WHO officials said. “There’s a lot of distrust among the population, with many believing that the virus is a hoax,” Delay said.
Compared with the previous outbreak in West Africa, which killed close to 11,000 people from 2014 to 2016, the response has been more organized. Buckets of bleach are displayed outside hotels, restaurants and clinics, while infected patients are treated in individual plastic cubes to limit the risks of contagion. Health workers can also rely on an effective vaccine, despite the deep mistrust in villages around Beni. “I think this vaccination campaign has helped saved the lives of many, many people,” Delay said.
On July 14, Delay followed burial workers clad in protective gear as they carried the remains of Mussa Kathembo, an Islamic scholar, and his wife, Asiya. Both had contracted the virus after caring for and praying over those dying of Ebola.
While the epidemic isn’t out of control, Congolese continue to die. And armed attacks against health workers aren’t helping. The North Kivu province has known conflict for more than 25 years, torn by “armed groups and militias that the government in Kinshasa or the United Nations can’t control,” Delay said. “This region didn’t wait for the Ebola virus to suffer.”