2020 Magazine - Gold

In a gripping look at a public health crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Amy Maxmen told how responders from the World Health Organization battled not only the deadly Ebola virus in a time of violent political unrest, but also deep-seated suspicion of outsiders by local residents who had suffered from more than a century of conflict, exploitation and neglect from their government and the world at large. Despite efforts of about 700 WHO staff ― almost all of them African ― in cities and towns where Ebola was spreading, Maxmen wrote that the death rate was soaring at 67% because the therapies, including a new Ebola vaccine, weren’t reaching all in need. “Many residents just didn’t accept that Ebola responders were there to help,” she wrote. That greatly complicated efforts to trace contacts of those who had the disease, with fewer than half of those diagnosed with Ebola entered on contact tracing lists. “It’s no coincidence that the world’s two largest Ebola outbreaks have exploded in densely populated regions of countries with ineffective health systems, extreme poverty and a history of exploitative colonization and conflict,” Maxmen wrote. Rami Tzabar, a science editor at the BBC, said her story “captures the futility and frustration but allows you to believe and hope in the efforts of strikingly brave, or just stubborn, individuals.” Maxmen thanked the photographer on the piece, John Wessels, her editors at Nature and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for support. She said decades of conflict and hardship in the Democratic Republic of Congo made the Ebola outbreak “easy for the rest of the world to ignore, seeing it as just another tragedy in a remote region of the globe. I hope my feature stands in the way of such neglect and reminds people of our shared humanity.”