At a village clinic in central Congo, separated from the world by a tangle of waterways and forests, six-year-old Angelika Lifafu (above) grips her dress and screams as nurses in protective suits pick at one of hundreds of boils that trouble her delicate skin.
Her uncle, 12-year-old Lisungi Lifafu, sits at the foot of her bed, facing away from the sunlight that pours through the doorway and pains his swollen, weeping eyes. When nurses approach, he raises his chin, but cannot look up.
The children have monkeypox, a disease first detected in Congo 50 years ago, but cases of which have spiked in West and Central Africa since 2019. The illness received little attention until it spread worldwide this year, infecting 77,000 people.
Lituka Wenda Dety, a 41-year-old mother, thinks she got sick from eating infected bush meat. At the height of her illness in August, her throat was so sore she struggled to swallow her own saliva. Round scars still dot Dety’s body, and her bones ache. She is grieving. When she was ill in hospital, her six-month-old son caught monkeypox and died. He is buried in a patch of sandy earth beside her mud brick home.At the end of the day, Dety and her family gather around the small rectangular grave. She whispers prayers. “We want there to be a vaccination campaign,” she said. “Going by what we have suffered, if many people catch this disease it will be catastrophic.”(Picture editing by Kezia Levitas; Reporting by Djaffar al Katanty in Tshopo; Writing by Edward McAllister; additional reporting by James Macharia Chege in Johannesburg and Stanis Bujakera in Kinshasa; Text editing by Frank Jack Daniel; Design by Eve Watling)