New Ebola Cases Show Women Are Particularly Marginalized
Female survivors of Ebola are more likely than men to face stigma over the virus.
The Ebola death toll in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still on the rise, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which puts the official numbers of people affected by the virus at 3,198. This increase in fatalities is due to the outbreak in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
A total of 2,137 people have died in the DRC after contracting the virus, while 994 have survived. And more than 400 suspected cases of Ebola are under investigation. But the virus has not affected people of different genders equally.
Of all patients impacted by the outbreak, women and girls account for 58% of people who have contracted Ebola — and they are the most marginalized because of it.
Women are especially vulnerable to contracting Ebola due to their participation in activities with potentially high exposure to the virus, the WHO reported. Women are often caregivers and may be responsible for bringing sick children or relatives to hospitals, and continuing to care for them during an illness. In addition, they are frequently responsible arranging funerals for those who have died and preparing bodies for burial.
Pregnant women infected with Ebola face higher mortality rates from the virus than the general population.
“During the West Africa Ebola outbreak … few pregnant women or their unborn fetuses survived,” according to the WHO. “Now, because of access to an Ebola vaccine, new therapeutic treatments and improved detection systems, more and more pregnant women are recovering from Ebola and delivering their babies.”
However, while survival rates for pregnant women have increased, the stigma remains. These women face challenges reintegrating into their communities. At times, their babies are also stigmatized and treated with suspicion, due to being born of an Ebola-infected woman.
“Normally, when someone in our community has a new baby, everyone wants to hold it,” Kavira, an Ebola survivor and new mother, told the WHO. “But when I went home, no one wanted to hold my baby or come too close.”
Several studies have shown that Ebola survivors face a host of mental health challenges including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. They may also experience threats and violence because they are seen as "tainted" and dangerous.
While hot spots of the virus exist, some areas of the country report no new confirmed cases.
WHO data shows there has been a slight decline in the number of new cases, but the organization has warned this will unlikely be a pattern that continues.
"Operational and security challenges in certain health zones make it difficult to undertake case detection and response functions. An increase in the number of reported cases is expected in the coming weeks once response activities resume in full,” the organization said in a report.
According to the WHO’s latest bulletin on outbreaks and emergencies, point of entry screening continues along with cross-border collaboration, particularly with Rwanda and Uganda, in order to contain the virus. Over 230,000 people have been vaccinated against Ebola since the August 2018 outbreak.
Still, the WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC a public health emergency of international concern in July 2019. And in order to stop the virus more efforts to treat those infected and prevent its spread are needed.
“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” Ghebreyesus said.