“The children ask me a lot of questions about the disease and the reason why they are here”, explains Sylvie Waridi, a psychologist at the Ebola treatment centre in Beni, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sylvie is one of 150 psychosocial workers trained by UNICEF to support people affected by the Ebola virus. She is responsible for providing psychological assistance to the children being cared for in the Beni treatment centre. “I talk to them, comfort them and listen to their worries,” she says.
Every time we discharge a child from the centre we are filled with joy
The psychologist cared for Gloria* and Emmanuel*, eight-year-old twins. The two children were admitted to the centre and put under observation after exhibiting symptoms which could suggest the presence of the virus. “It wasn’t easy for them to understand what was happening. Fortunately, there were two of them and they could support each other,” says Sylvie.
The small twins’ mother was left completely shattered and thought that her children were going to die. “The father, on the other hand, remained hopeful. Every morning, he came up to the centre’s fencing and stayed there until nightfall, assuring himself that his children could see him,” Sylvie continues.
After six days of observation and two negative tests, the children tested negative forthe Ebola virus. “Every time we discharge a child from the centre we are filled with joy,” Sylvie explains.
For the psychologist, this moment marks the beginning of a new phase of her work. She must then remind the children, in simple words, what happened to them and what they can expect. “Every child who is discharged seeks physical contact,” continues the psychologist. “Holding them in our arms gives them the strength and confidence for what follows”.
The risk of stigmatisation for those discharged from the Ebola centre is high, and the return home is not always easy. Sylvie regularly visits the neighbourhood to ensure that Gloria and Emmanuel have been well received. “You have to explain to the neighbours what the illness is, the reason why the children were admitted to the centre and why they have now been returned to their family.”
Over the last few weeks, Sylvie has seen several children arrive at the treatment centre. Fortunately, she has also seen many children discharged and declared not infected.
Yves Willemot is Chief of Communication at UNICEF, Democratic Republic of Congo.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of children.