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Champions of the DR Congo Ebola Response - Part 3

Celebrating epidemiologists Aline and Betty

As we continue with our series, this week we bring you two lady epidemiologists. Both members of the 6th cohort of the DR Congo Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program, doctors Mulinda Mughole Aline and Mununga Tshakena Betty are fresh from the Kinshasa School of Public Health having attended the 2018-2020 session. The duo shares with us their contribution to the 10th DR Congo Ebola Virus Disease outbreak response.

Mulinda Mughole Aline

I was part of a team that supported the Epidemiological Surveillance Commission mainly in investigation of cases, and active case finding both in health facilities and in the community. But as the team leader of a health area my role was also to support the members of the team in their specific activities, particularly in raising awareness and monitoring contacts.

To succeed and what we think led to our success is this determination and zeal we had to accomplish our mission at all cost. Nevertheless, we faced challenges along the way, and I will list them as follows:

  • Hostility of the population, especially the families of the police and the military
  • Mistrust of healthcare providers, especially traditional healers
  • Multiple gaps in terms of community relays regarding filling tools
  • Misinformation campaigns by certain political and religious authorities 
  • Insecurity

However, we had to find a way of working around this given the determination we had to accomplish this mission. We used healed exits or non-case exits when it was necessary to share their experience with the suspect cases who did not want to go to the Ebola Treatment Centers. Another remedy was the integration of traditional healers in active research teams.

Additionally, we supported community relays in their activities and make sure that the tools are correctly filled in and make corrections where necessary. We offered support to communication teams to ensure that the message is correct. Regarding insecurity we had to ensure strict compliance with measures given to us.

Speaking several languages by various team members made it was easy for us approach the families of soldiers and police who spoke only Lingala and they felt closer to us. They could express their problems in all discretion, and we could answer without having to go through an interpreter.

Mununga Tshakena Betty

I was involved in quite several activities in a couple of health zones starting with Katwa Health Zone in 2018 where I first worked as a supervisor and then team leader of active research based in Butembo. Then in 2019, I worked as a senior epidemiologist and coordinator of activities of the various response committees in the Vutetse and Mondo health areas. 

I was also engaged in following up of contacts, sensitization of healthcare providers and the community against Ebola virus disease. Similarly, I was involved in response activities such as vaccination, decontamination of houses, dignified and secure burials, as well as supporting communication, and infection prevention. Transferring of suspects to the Ebola treatment center and chairing meetings at the level of health areas were the other activities. Meanwhile, in Béni I worked as a Senior epidemiologist in the Kasabinyole and Tuungane health zones.

Several factors were very key in my success. One is my basic training as a doctor and epidemiologist. This prepared me to have the will to always learn and to do better. Also, my field experience acquired as a malaria specialist came in handy, as I drew lessons from this background. Another key success factor is my adaptability to any working condition. I was also helped by my being able to speak Swahili which is the language spoken in North Kivu; the compassion of the Nandé community; collaboration with local, national and international teams; and lastly, respect for Nandé culture and tradition.

It was not all plain sailing as we faced some challenges ranging from insecurity to the reluctance of the community to respond to anyone not from the area, the imposture of other members of the response claiming to be epidemiologists, I can’t forget the working conditions. But we found a way of going around these challenges. For the reluctance of the community, we worked in collaboration with the psychology commission, the politico-administrative, as well as religious authorities and communities became receptive.  As for insecurity, we followed and respected the guidelines of the security committee every morning and every evening. To expose the imposters, we just beat them with expertise in what we were doing. And finally, when it came to the working conditions, we worked with in the available means but did not compromise.