It’s a story so dangerous that the journalists who covered it are still checking to make sure they’re not infected with one of the world’s most lethal diseases. Yet the work of AP’s all-formats journalists helped tell intimate stories about the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history.
The team had been planning since April to report on the outbreak in Congo, a journey complicated not only by the risks of exposure to the disease but also the threat of attacks by rebel groups in the area. Their story took on even greater urgency when during their trip, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a world health emergency.
AP’s team – Johannesburg Chief Photographer Jerome Delay, West Africa Bureau Chief Krista Larson, Istanbul video journalist Bram Janssen and eastern Congo stringer Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro – turned out a series of quickly-produced but compelling stories from the epicenter of the outbreak, where distrust for health workers and an experimental vaccine runs high, and death robs children of their parents.
The package vividly told the story of the last moments of Mussa Kathembo, one of the more than 1,700 people killed by the disease, and the crew who carefully buried him. Videos showed workers administering the experimental vaccine that has shown promise of stemming the virus’ spread, including the story of an older woman who reasoned she needed the shot because at her age, she was vulnerable “like a child.”
And they found the uplifting tale of Claude Mabowa Sasi, an infected man intent on fulfilling his mother’s wish that he attend college. But entrance exams are only offered once a year in Congo, and Mabowa remained quarantined. Workers found a solution: A school official proctored the exams with a window separating them, Mabowa’s written answers recorded with a paper and pencil that were later burned.
Readers, and editors, around the world took notice. The New York Times put one of Delay’s photos on the front page of its Saturday edition and used the story about Mabowa, while The Washington Post turned his images into a stunning photo gallery. Janssen’s videos proved popular, with one filed on the day of WHO declared the health emergency becoming the second most-used video of the day. Die Welt devoted two pages to Delay’s photos.
The story carried great personal risk. When Janssen needed someone to sign a release form, Larson lent her notebook. Realizing that the signer could be infectious, she avoided touching those pages for the three hours that the virus could be transferable. The team later learned the man tested positive for Ebola.
As a precaution, the team continues to monitor their temperatures regularly to ensure they do not show signs of the disease. Exposure remains a constant concern for Kudra, who lives in Beni, where the team did much of its recent reporting.
When Larson lent her notebook to a man who might be infected, she avoided touching those pages for the three hours that the virus could be transferable. He later tested positive.
For careful planning and execution of compelling text, video and photographs that brought the frightening outbreak to a deeply personal level, Larson, Delay, Janssen and Kudra win AP’s Best of the Week award.