Fieldset
Ebola in DRC: Staying safe in the red zone

Australian doctor Saschveen recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is fighting an Ebola epidemic – now the second-largest outbreak of the disease in history. In this blog, she explains how our teams avoid spreading the disease while caring for infected patients.

Heart jumps at your throat
A gentle reminder
This is feeling alive

Palpitations
A free-form haiku by Saschveen Singh, September 2017

After briefings in the MSF office in Geneva, I’ve finally arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for my next assignment. 

I’m joining teams on the ground that are tackling another Ebola crisis in a region crippled by limited health infrastructure. 

Everything that goes into the “red zone” in the Ebola treatment centre must stay in there, including paper and pens as they are a potential biohazard.

Ebola is highly contagious, so patients must be kept in isolation to avoid passing the disease on to others.  

For us as health professionals, that means wearing personal protective equipment known as PPE – impermeable suits that prevent contact with infectious body fluids. 

The red zone

Butembo is 1,736 metres above sea level, so thankfully the weather here is quite mild (its even super cold in the early mornings and on night shifts).

That means it’s not too uncomfortably hot being in personal protective equipment on most days, but sometimes it gets very warm in the middle of the day and you have to stay hydrated. 

saschy_relays_patient_notes_from_inside_the_red_zone.jpg

Saschveen relays patient notes from inside the red zone
Saschveen relays patient notes from inside the red zone

Everything that goes into the “red zone” in the Ebola treatment centre must stay in there, including paper and pens as they are a potential biohazard.

That means that in order to keep a record of a patient’s vital signs, we need to write them down inside the red zone, then hold them up so a colleague on the other side of the barriers can copy them down.

Nothing crosses the line.

Guardian angels

After working inside the isolation zone, we have to decontaminate and undress. And, as you can see from this video of me, it’s a slow and meticulous process and you have to pay close attention to every step.  

We always have a “guardian angel” (Ange Gardien– a member of staff on the other side of the barriers to the isolation zone, watching our teams on the inside to make sure they are safe and sound.  

We are still dealing with new cases in a region where a general sense of mistrust and many false rumours about Ebola are hampering public health efforts to contain the outbreak… So this epidemic is far from over.