African Ebola Survivors Share Their Stories of Recovery and Stigma

Ebola virus under an electron microscope. Photo by Flickr user NIAID. CC BY 2.0

Ebola virus under an electron microscope. Photo by Flickr user NIAID. CC BY 2.0

According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, 2,615 cases of Ebola have been reported throughout West Africa and 1,427 people have died in what is being described as the world's worst outbreak of the virus. There is no confirmed cure for Ebola, and the mortality rate for the latest outbreak sits at around 50 percent — although previous outbreaks have seen up to 90 percent of the infected perish. 

Those who have survived Ebola have remarkable tales of resilience and heroic care from local health workers, but also of sadness and rejection because of ignorance about the disease.

On Aug. 20, the WHO published a video on YouTube showcasing three of those survivors: Saah Tambah and Harrison Sakilla from Liberia and Matu Kamara from Sierra Leone.

Saah Tambah explains how he became infected and his life since his recovery: 

I got the Ebola from an uncle in Koindu. I went to visit him for two nights because there was no one to take care of him. After a few days, he died and then his wife and daughter died too [..] I started vomiting and suffered from diarrhea so I went to the clinic. When I got sick, my family doubted my recovery. Thank god for the doctors. They gave me a certificate that indicates I am free of Ebola in case anyone would still doubt. 

Harrison Sakilla, 39, is from Foya in the north of Liberia. He is the first survivor from his area. He lost his mother to the disease. He says:

I got the disease caring for my mother. If someone starts to see symptoms, one should go to an Ebola health center. They will provide care and one can make it out.   

Matu Kamara, 52, says she lost her sister and her child to Ebola:

My daughter felt sick after caring from my husband's other wife. She was feeling cold. I took her to the hospital and they gave her medicine. She felt better but then later she started vomiting. She died in our arms. I felt sick and began vomiting. I went to the hospital and two days later, I felt better. We survivors from this sickness need a certificate to show to people that we had Ebola and we were treated. Do not wait to become very sick before going to the hospital.   

People who recover from the disease often face heartbreaking post-survival rejection because of a lack of understanding of how the disease spreads.Such is the story of Dr. Melvin Korkor, a doctor of Phebe hospital in Liberia. Korkor has survived Ebola but he explains that his relatives and friends were weary of touching him, as reported on the Liberian-based Front Page Africa Online

Even though Korkor said he has been cleared of Ebola, he says that people avoid him. ‘Now, everywhere in my neighborhood, all the looks bore into me like I’m the plague,” he said. FrontPageAfrica reporter who trailed the Phebe doctor on Cuttington campus Monday observed that people left places when he showed up while friends, students and loved ones avoided his handshake or eat with him […] “Thanks to God, I am cured. But now I have a new disease: the stigmatization that I am a victim of,” Korkor was quoted by a local radio station in Gbarnga. ‘This disease (the stigma) is worse than the fever.

Liberia is one of the four countries dealing with the outbreak, alongside Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Claudius Barnawolo, a Liberian physician's assistant, also beat the odds and survived Ebola. Front Page Africa Online recorded his testimony and his family members who also felt the stigma of rejection from their community:

Awareness about Ebola and how it is spread remains a challenge. Côte d'Ivoire has started an important Ebola prevention campaign, even though no cases has been detected yet. Ivorian bloggers have repurposed the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for Ebola awareness using the French-language hashtag #moussercontreEbola (lather up against Ebola):

The work of lab scientists such as Dr. Korkor or Barnawolo to detect and sort out whether ailing patients have Ebola virus is also crucial in fighting the epidemic. Abdoulaye Bah, a volunteer author and translator for Global Voices, highlighted their work in Liberia (via Jina Moore):

Jeejuah, 30, and two other women, all volunteers, are cooking for 12 of the most important, but invisible, people in Liberia right now. The dozen meals are meant for the team of technicians that tests the blood of suspected Ebola patients. They visit sick peoples’ homes and overwhelmed Ebola treatment centers, sticking needles in the veins of physically unpredictable, highly contagious people. They then drive their blood back to Liberia’s only medical lab, more than an hour from the capital of Monrovia.

Evidently fighting (and surviving) Ebola will take a tremendous deal of collective effort in the affected countries, especially considering the stigma inside and outside their borders.In the context of this epidemic, it has never been more crucial for the communities to realize that they need to get organized together in this struggle or they will perish together as fools.

Follow our in-depth coverage: The Struggle to #StopEbola in West Africa


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