Inside the DRC: ITV News witnesses the fight to contain the country's worst ever Ebola outbreak

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is currently in the grip of the country's worst ever Ebola outbreak.

More than 500 people have been infected with the deadly disease which can leave sufferers with internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea, and more than 300 people have died.

ITV News visited an Ebola treatment centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières and the Congolese Ministry of Health.

More than 50% of Ebola sufferers die of the disease. Credit: ITV News

The boy sits quietly at the open end of a huge white tent.

He’s a small figure in an outsized anorak someone has lent him to protect against the rainstorms passing overhead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

But it’s the drifting clouds of emotion visible in his eyes that capture my attention.

He’s listening intently to the howls of grief from a family come to pick up a body from the morgue, another victim of the same deadly contagion that has already claimed his mother and three brothers.

So the boy is lost in his own thoughts and trapped inside the terrifying world of Ebola; the single word that is a death sentence for so many.

Doctors are trialling medicines under an emergency protocol. Credit: ITV News

"It’s very difficult to comprehend what must be going on in his mind," says Dr Judith Kendell, who has just finished her afternoon rounds of patients.

"He came here with his older brother and both of them were desperately ill.

"Within 24 hours, his brother went into a coma and never recovered.

"He saw all that."

Dr Kendell is a senior member of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team running the Ebola treatment centre alongside the Congolese Ministry of Health.

The city of Butembo has been hit by Ebola. Credit: ITV News

Their work can be the difference between life and death.

They take our camera inside.

It is not a place for the faint hearted.

This is a disease that can strip its victims of all dignity.

Through layers of protective clothing, in masks and latex gloves, MSF offers what little hope there is.

More often than not it is a losing battle.

Health workers are using three of the four experimental treatments available – none of which have completed clinical trials – under an emergency protocol.

Still, I’m told, the death rate is little better than that in the west African outbreak of 2014.

"There’s simply no magic cure you can give to a patient with an advanced form of the disease and be confident that he or she will survive," Dr Kendell says.

Some 40,000 people have been vaccinated, though some of them have later contracted the disease, although perhaps in less severe forms.

Since August, Ebola has been rolling through the villages and towns of the district until it has reached Butembo, a sprawling city of one million souls.

"The higher the population density, the more exchanges and contacts, the more concerned we are," says Celine Gurry, an epidemiologist with MSF.

"This is a city with a lot of commercial activity and people are more mobile.

"They will travel to different parts of the country and that’s a worry."

Neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda are both on alert.

What makes Ebola even harder to combat is the conflict that has raged in this part of the country.

  • Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan

The presidential election scheduled for next weekend has deepened the fear of instability.

"Some areas are inaccessible to our teams, so we can’t investigate a patient’s contacts," says Gurry.

"By then there’s opportunity for onward transmission."

In nearby Beni, the numbers of fresh cases are subsiding; but the high tide of Ebola has left much misery in its wake.

"It is killing mothers and fathers and it’s killing children.

"One in 10 of the victims are under the age of five," says Yves Willemot of UNICEF which is helping hundreds of Ebola orphans deal with the trauma of loss.

"It is tearing families apart."

A single tear runs down the face of 10-year-old Sagesse.

He is remembering his mother.

"She was preparing my milk then her headaches began.

"Later she was bleeding," he says.

Sagasse's mother died of Ebola. Credit: ITV News

The family had fled the war but Ebola has destroyed their future.

"The fighting was bad, this disease is worse," Sagasse’s father tells me.

"I have lost my wife and we are alone."

Sagasse's father said Ebola is worse than the fighting the family had fled. Credit: ITV News

Back in Butembo, there’s a leaving party at the MSF hospital for Helene, who has recovered and is being returned to the outside world, to the land of the living.

"Today we have killed Ebola," they sing, but Helene doesn’t look happy.

During her treatment she lost her baby, who was stillborn.

Her own survival, I am told, is against the odds.

An although she is free of Ebola, none of the farewell singers dare get too close.

Such is the lingering stigma.

Despite being Ebola-free, many people are still wary of Helene. Credit: ITV News

"I thank the doctors for helping me," she says.

"My baby, I will try not to think about."

Meantime, MSF is expanding the treatment centre and building a second close by.

Ebola isn’t beaten.