DRC: Five people who beat cholera
In the territory of Rushuru, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an outbreak of suspected cholera has been raging. The disease can quickly become fatal, but with fast access to the right care, patients can make rapid recoveries too.
Lives in the balance
"He was suffering from severe diarrhoea and lost consciousness,” says Tushime, 25, who feared for the life of her two-year-old son Djafette. She explained how she came to the treatment centre for suspected cases of cholera in Rutshuru, set up by Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.
“I rushed to get a motorbike. The whole way to here, which took three hours, I was very worried and afraid because he was no longer moving. I've never seen him so ill," she recounts with emotion, while her son, now recovered, plays peacefully.
REPORTED CHOLERA CASES OR OUTBREAKS IN 2022
UP TO 140,000
DEATHS EACH YEAR
PATIENTS TREATED BY MSF FOR CHOLERA IN 2022
For months, MSF has been the only medical organisation present in Rutshuru, supporting 24 medical facilities across the region. When the outbreak started, the team had to respond fast.
"The first few days were not easy," says nurse supervisor Denis Mudake. "We were overwhelmed, with three or four patients per bed. So we sent further medical supplies and set up a specific cholera treatment centre. It's a huge logistical task to set this up in just a few days."
Cholera is a bacterial infection that causes profuse diarrhoea and vomiting, which can rapidly lead to life-threatening levels of dehydration. It spreads when someone ingests food or water contaminated with the faeces or vomit of someone carrying the disease.
"We have involved the community in raising awareness of the need to get to healthcare quickly if they have symptoms," continues Denis. "Many of our patients were coming from far away and in a critical state of health, so we have set up water chlorination and oral rehydration points to get closer to the patients."
£24 could pay for IV solutions to rehydrate five adult patients with cholera
The generosity of people like you means expert MSF medical teams can deliver essential medical care to people across the world.
Overall, the teams set up four cholera treatment centres across the Rutshuru and Binza health zones. In just three days, they treated almost four hundred people, and the numbers kept growing. By the end of July, the team had treated over 1,500 people.
Now, through community-based prevention measures and increased medical support, the situation is under control and the admission rate is declining.
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- Laora Vigourt/MSF
"Not everyone has this opportunity"
“I was very worried and afraid because he was no longer moving .“ Tushime, 25, feared for the life of her son Djafette, two-and-a-half years old. She explained how she came to the treatment centre in Rutshuru: "He was suffering from severe diarrhoea and fainted. Hence, I rushed to get a motorbike. The whole way here, which took three hours, I was very worried and afraid because he was no longer moving. I've never seen him so ill," she recounts with emotion, while her son is now playing peacefully. A catheter was placed in Djafette's skull, a medical device enabling patients to be rehydrated. This is normally placed on the arm, but when not accessible, it is the last medical resort. Djafette was in a state of shock when he was taken in by the medical teams. Tushime fell ill after her son, and was cared for at the same time as he did. "Not everyone has this opportunity: on the way here, I've seen people who have died, like a mother whose son is being treated here". After six days at the treatment centre, Tushime returned home with her son and will be reunited with her husband and her two other children.
- Laora Vigourt/MSF
"I thought it was malaria, so I didn't worry"
Two days after carrying a sick person on his bike to the nearest health centre, Dieu-est-Bon started to feel tired. "I thought it was malaria, so I didn't worry," he says. "Then I started having severe diarrhoea and vomiting, which made me realize that it might be the same thing as the patient I had accompanied. But by then, I became too weak to move”. Two people carried him during the four-hour walk to the treatment centre set up by MSF. After two days of treatment, Dieu-est-bon is feeling better and ready to go with his mother, who came to pick him up.
- Laora Vigourt/MSF
"I was really scared as I nearly died”
Jean, 31, can't remember how he arrived at the hospital. "When I woke up lying in the treatment centre, I didn't know where I was or what had happened to me. I remember that I was working in the fields and that I was suffering from stomach pains, with diarrhoea and vomiting. Then I fainted," he recalls. "I was told that someone I didn't know had brought me here by motorbike to get treatment". Jean is a maize farmer. "I was really scared. I nearly died, but fortunately today I'm healed, and I'll be able to see my wife and my two children again." Jean was taken into care for five days at the treatment centre set up in Rutshuru by MSF teams for suspected cases of cholera.
- MSF/Laora Vigourt
"No matter how long it takes, I want to get home to my family"
Jimmy, 31 years old, arrived in shock at the treatment centre for suspected cholera cases in Kiseguru, set up by MSF teams in support of the health authorities. "My brother told me that I fell on the ground and that the neighbours brought me here. I don't remember anything except that I was very sick with diarrhoea and vomiting". Jimmy is a farmer, he grows corn, sorghum, cassava, and yams. His field is only a few kilometres from the health centre, but he is originally from Mweso, where his family live, around a hundred kilometres from here. His wife and two children don't know that Jimmy has fallen seriously ill. The only thing that matters to him now is going back to them: "No matter how long it takes, I want to get home to my family and get some rest," Jimmy tells us in a determined voice. Jimmy wanted to take the photo next to Dr Laurent, who is part of the medical team that saved his life. "This disease is so serious, people need to know that they have to rush to hospital," explains Jimmy.
- Laora Vigourt/MSF
"It's a huge logistical task"
Denis Mudake is an MSF nurse supervisor at the Kiseguru health centre in the Binza health zone in Rutshuru. Denis was part of the medical team that treated the first cases at the beginning of June. Since then, more than 500 patients have been treated in this centre. "The first few days were not easy. We were short of space and cholera beds to cope with the influx of patients. We were overwhelmed, with three or four patients per bed. We subsequently sent more materials and set up a specific processing centre. It's a huge logistical task to set this up in just a few days". "We have involved the community in raising awareness and have set up water chlorination and oral rehydration points to get closer to the patients, who come from far away and in a critical state of health". Denis has been working for MSF for almost nine years in different projects. Despite the fatigue, he remains determined and motivated.