Twice a week, Mama Mwatatu rises early and makes a two-hour trek from her home in Beni’s Cité Belge neighbourhood in North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the local radio station. For the past 12 years, she has hosted a call-in radio talk show called “Women and Development” and has a devoted audience, earning her the nickname Mother Counsellor of Beni.
In normal times, she dispenses advice on health, relationships and child-rearing. But since this August, Ebola has shaken residents and the city is the base for outbreak response efforts in North Kivu. Mama Mwatatu’s mostly female fans have inundated her with questions: Why aren’t you talking to us about this? We don’t know what to believe. But if you tell us that Ebola exists, then we trust you.
“I told them: ‘Ebola is real, and you have to protect yourself and your family,’” Mama Mwatatu says. “But I wasn’t sure I had all the answers to the more technical questions so I got in touch with the World Health Organization (WHO) for assistance.”
And so Mama Mwatatu teamed up with WHO’s community engagement team and her two weekly shows expanded from 30 minutes to an hour.
The current Ebola outbreak in the northeast of the DRC – the tenth since the disease was identified in 1976 – has stood out as the country’s largest. Response efforts have been complicated by insecurity and armed conflict. Another challenge is how this outbreak has disproportionately affected women.
As of mid-December there have been more than 500 cases, of which two-thirds were women.