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The Democratic Republic of Congo is currently fighting its worst ever Ebola epidemic, concentrated to its restive North Kivu region. But armed militia groups are making access for WHO specialists and local health workers difficult. The crisis could therefore deteriorate quickly. FRANCE 24’s Bastien Renouil reports from a country that is fighting a war on several fronts.
By the end of November, DR Congo had recorded more than 400 cases of Ebola, including over 240 deaths. It’s the highest number of victims to have been reported since the virus was first discovered in the north of the country in 1976. Ever since the latest epidemic was confirmed on August 1, the WHO, the Congolese health ministry and international NGOs have set up special teams to respond to the crisis, and many of them have been deployed to the North Kivu city of Béni, which is at the epicentre of the epidemic. But the response has proved particularly difficult in this region, where armed militias sow terror on a daily basis, preventing medical teams from reaching some affected areas.
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Militants belonging to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) jihadist group come out at night and conduct deadly raids on both Béni and its surrounding villages. Many residents have either been killed or abducted. The Congolese army has been unable to stop the killings on its own, resulting in MONUSCO (the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) launching an operation to try to protect civilians in the area and to secure access for the crisis response teams. Their goal is to retake ADF-controlled areas and drive the militants out of the city. But the offensive has already claimed its victims: Seven UN peacekeepers and several Congolese soldiers have been killed so far.
Meanwhile, the fight to stop the spreading of Ebola is a race against the clock. It is crucial to stop the epidemic before it gets out of hand. But the fight against the region’s militia groups is not expected to end any time soon. Unless the medical teams get access to the affected areas, the situation could get much worse in just a matter of months.
Behind the scenes of the documentary:
“Reporting and filming in an Ebola-affected zone is challenging: It’s impossible to get close to those infected because of the high risk of infection: both the journalist and the equipment can be contaminated. The only way to protect yourself is to wear the same airtight suits, hoods and protective masks as the medical staff. Not an inch of your skin should be left uncovered.
The outside temperature, which under the Béni sun easily reaches around 35°C, is even more suffocating under the suit.
Once shooting is over, the most critical phase ensues: removing the potentially contaminated protective gear. It’s a long process in which you are sprayed with chlorine to kill the virus. The camera, also potentially contaminated, must be lowered in a bucket of chlorine.”
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