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The Mbuti and the Ebola Epidemic


As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds around the world, the Ebola epidemic in northeastern DR Congo appears to finally be winding down. A report dated March 25 on the website of Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Irish Catholic church, provides information about the fight against Ebola and the ways the Mbuti are reacting to that crisis.

The Ituri Forest

The Ituri Forest (Photo by Terese Hart on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The author of the report, Garry Walsh, traveled to the Ituri Forest in the Congo in January to learn first hand what progress the people, including the Mbuti, have been making. He clearly hopes the lessons of the Ebola fight may have an impact on the worldwide responses to the coronavirus pandemic. For after 18 months of working with Congolese people to help them change their ways, it appears as if the fight against Ebola is nearly won.

The author writes that Ebola initially springs from animals to humans when the latter feed on infected prey, an origin that is comparable to the coronavirus in people. Walsh hangs out with Alundo Matope, a Mbuti leader in the local village and an enthusiastic beekeeper who enjoys showing off his hives to the visitor. Alundo tells the others in the village to stop hunting forest animals, to never touch dead bodies, and to always wash their hands.

Trócaire provided Alundo with his two beehives to encourage him to stop going into the forest in search of wild bees. The agency encourages him to earn money through the sale of honey. People are learning to use hand-washing stations that the charities have provided. The Mbuti children are drumming along with the song they sing that deals with the Ebola campaign. The kids clearly know the words by heart. Walsh concludes that the fight against Ebola is working, in this village at least.

The Mbuti came to remember two who had died

The Mbuti came to remember two who had died (Photo by Terese Hart on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Walsh devotes the rest of his report to the work the charity has been doing to combat Ebola—developing the infrastructure of sanitation, training doctors, mounting information campaigns, working with community leaders, and so on. He concludes that the fight is almost over. The number of new cases has dropped dramatically. The last patient was released from a treatment facility two weeks before. People are holding their breath, hoping it is finally over. Two-thirds of the 2,200 people in the DR Congo who contracted Ebola died from it.

But if Ebola is beaten, the first cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country. We can hope that the lessons Alundo and the other Mbuti have learned about sanitation from the health workers will continue to be part of their lives.


Ladakhi Response to Coronavirus


A small Ladakhi village now requires all visitors to wash their hands before they are allowed to enter, according to a news report in the Deccan Herald last Thursday.

Some men in Kargil

Some men in Kargil (Photo by Saurabh Chatterjee in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The village of Latoo, in the Kargil District of Ladakh, is taking its own approach to fighting the spread of the coronavirus. The villagers posted a sign at the entrance to the community stating in both English and Urdu, “Don’t enter this village without washing your hands.” Latoo has about 40 – 45 houses.

A much longer article on Latoo dated December 2018 describes the difficult history of the village, located on the border with Pakistan, as a continuing series of conflicts with neighboring villages and with the Pakistanis. As a result of their hard-scrabble experiences, the people of Latoo are used to innovative and spur-of-the-moment decision making to protect themselves and their future. Their response to the COVID-19 crisis is characteristic of them.

According to the Deccan Herald, 13 people in Ladakh have so far tested positive for the disease. Feroz Khan, the Chief Executive Councilor for the Kargil Hill Council said, “This is a very appreciable step. People in Kargil are at the forefront of the battle against coronavirus.” Baseer-ul-Haq Choudhary, the Deputy Commissioner for Kargil, expressed similar praise for Latoo in a tweet.


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