Ebola Survivors, Aminata and her 7-year-old son Ibrahim.
By Winnie Romeril, Spokesperson, World Health Organization
Sitting in wintery Geneva, it’s hard to imagine how to describe to my family and friends back home these past three months in Sierra Leone working with the World Health Organization (WHO). As I look through my photos, the most meaningful stories that fill my mind and my heart, and make my eyes well up invariably involve Ebola survivors. To date in Sierra Leone, there are over 2,100 survivorsdischarged from treatment facilities— each with an “Ebola-free” certificate in hand. So many and yet too few.
The first Ebola survivor I met was a soft-spoken British nurse, Will Pooley, returning post-recovery to Freetown just as I arrived. No fanfare, just a regular guy chatting with friends. He included me in their conversation, as we huddled out of the rain before boarding our boat taxi from the airport to the city. “Oh, you’re THAT Will,” I blurted out, remembering what my WHO colleagues had told me. They were fresh from meeting a roomful of his former patients at the Kenema survivors conference. The survivors asked about Will; they sent their thanks to him for their lives. He was surprised, humbled and visibly touched. “Ebola is unlike any disease I’ve ever witnessed,” Will recently said about his experience. “Nothing can prepare you for the effect it has on the infected, on their families, and on their communities.”
Abdul was another health worker I had the privilege to meet. He attended a workshop given by the Ministry of Social Welfare with WHO doctors and nurses. Because of the muscle wasting caused by Ebola, Abdul was too weak to return to caring for patients. He was given this opportunity to learn the psychological first aid skills being taught to HIV/AIDS counselors, mental health workers, and others in helping professions. Ebola affected every aspect of society, everyone was stressed, and simple listening techniques could provide support.
Ebola survivors, Mohamed with his three brothers and uncle at the mock” Ebola treatment unit (ETU).
In November, a WHO team arrived from Liberia to replicate their acclaimed “mock” Ebola treatment unit (ETU), where health workers learned from survivors about the challenges they would face in caring for Ebola patients through real world scenarios. In Freetown, I witnessed one group of survivors support and encourage each other, forming a new family out of remnants in the wake of Ebola. They conquered each tragic story of loss with their combined incredible strength.
Despite losing his wife, youngest brother, and father, Mohamed auditioned for parts at the mock ETU with his three surviving brothers and uncle. Hawa, accompanied by her surviving sister and father, raised everyone’s spirits with her youthful laugh and quick smile. They were later joined by Geraldine, an orphan at 16 and the only survivor in her family. Her mother was a nurse and insisted she only had malaria. Geraldine later went on the radio to urge other girls her age to call the emergency hotline: “Don’t make the same mistake I did. Your call for help can save the lives of people you love.” And the unforgettable Fonti, whose wife and both children had died, said to me out of the blue one day while we walked away from the mock ETU: “I’m so grateful for WHO.” “Why?” I asked. “Because this keeps my mind active,” he replied. “To be idle would be too much to bear.”
I spent Christmas Day at an MSF clinic where a mother named Aminata refused to leave the ETU until her 7-year-old son Ibrahim was well enough to be released as well. She spent the days at the ETU caring for all the sick children, not just her own, persuading them to drink lifesaving fluids, take nourishment, bathing them, and calling their families with updates. After Ibrahim’s blood test came back clear of Ebola, Aminata took Ibrahim in for a shower with weak chlorine and then soap and water. They walked out the other side clean, wearing bright new clothes and huge smiles, to applause from all the staff and our WHO team. Best. Christmas. Ever.
Like all things in Sierra Leone those months, the brightest moments were juxtaposed with a blast of reality. In this case, sirens from one ambulance after another brought new patients to the ETU as Aminata and Ibrahim left the facility.
Ebola survivor, Aminata and Spokesperson for the World Health Organization, Winnie Romeril in Sierra Leone.
Just before leaving Sierra Leone, I met Dr. Felix Sarria Baez, a Cuban doctor, who returned from Sierra Leone after contracting and surviving Ebola. We weaved in and out of Spanish as he described what it took. Quite simply, Dr. Felix willed himself to survive. “I will save my life, I said to myself. If you doubt and feel depressed, the disease will invade your body. It’s important to stay optimistic.” Dr. Felix interspersed details from his life and death ordeal with humorous advice, like, “chocolate is good for Ebola”.
The WHO Executive Board convened this week for a special meeting on Ebola to decide on future response needs. Ebola survivor and nurse, Rebecca Johnson, spoke before the Executive Boardto make sure politicians, administrators, scientists, and doctors stay focused on the human reality of the Ebola epidemic. Rebecca said, “Ebola is not the end of the world. I understand the effects of Ebola from the point of view of a health care provider to Ebola patients and most importantly, from the point of view of a survivor. Ebola can be beaten.”
Through so much loss, Ebola survivors have much to teach us, and it’s our job to listen and learn from their experiences. As WHO Deputy Director General Dr. Anarfi “AB” Asamoa-Bah said to us one night, “It’s not just about numbers, cash, and resources. People’s lives are still at stake, and we must make this meeting count for them.
This post first appeared on Shocking Informations, please read the originial post: here