By the end of 2018, nearly 500 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had contracted Ebola, with more than half of them dying from it. Many of the survivors are ostracised because of fear of contamination. 18-year-old Nadej is one of them; abandoned by her husband and shunned by her community, she is working to survive, and educate others about the deadly disease.
Nadej lives with her two small children in a mud hut surrounded by farmlands. Their home is about an hour from Beni, the epicentre of the country’s latest Ebola outbreak. In August, Nadej was infected with Ebola.
“I didn’t have an appetite for days; I could have died from starvation,” Nadej says. “I went to the pharmacy to buy medicine. When the pharmacist learned about my symptoms he realised I had Ebola.”
Nadej’s father called the treatment centre immediately.
“I was in a very critical condition so I don’t remember how the days passed, but I remember spending two weeks at the hospital,” Nadej says.
She made it out alive but her return home presented new problems. Her husband, the family’s sole provider, abandoned Nadej and their children when he learned of her diagnosis.
All her belongings and those of her two babies were incinerated to avoid the risk of contamination.
“I returned home from the hospital to an empty house. We had no clothes, all our belongings were burned. How could we survive?”
Her seven-month-old son still relies on milk, but Nadej is not allowed to breastfeed him for at least one more year to avoid infecting the baby. With her meagre resources, Nadej has to buy two boxes of milk each day for the infant, in addition to their other needs.
“I give thanks to people’s kindness,” she says. “When people pass by and talk to me, I tell them that I had Ebola and that the disease is real. A few people feel sorry for me and help me with a dollar here and there. Each day passes like that and when it ends I wait for the next day in hope that someone else will visit and help us.”
CARE’s work in DRC helps raise awareness about Ebola, reduce stigma, and support the cured to be reaccepted within their communities. We also provide training and handwashing stations around Ebola-affected cities, and in schools.