Four health workers threaded their way cautiously down a steep valley in their rubber boots, into a forest so thick and so tall that the air around them turned suddenly cool, trying to reach a remote village in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of congo where a woman had recently succumbed to Ebola.
Dr Kasereka Bernardin, a vaccinologist, looked over his shoulder, made the sign of the cross, and acknowledged that the lethal virus was not his most immediate fear.
“We’re scared of the Mai-Mai,” he said, using a local term for militias, his forehead lightly beaded with sweat. “We’re afraid they might kill us.”
The trip had already been delayed by clashes between government forces and a militia group in the surrounding Kanyihunga district, an emerging hot spot in a new outbreak of Ebola, and nerves were on edge. The team – an epidemiologist, two contact tracers and Bernardin – had not been able to line up guarantees of safe passage from the militia leaders, or even to make contact.
As concerned as they were about security, however, with every passing hour, the doctors were even more fearful that the deadly virus could spread to the entire village, Luseghe – or, worse, expand beyond its borders.
There have been many hopeful advances recently in the battle against the deadly Ebola virus. A vaccine is now available, and experimental treatments appear to be helping to save lives. With international help, Congo was able to quickly snuff out an earlier outbreak in its Équateur province this year.