The Survivors: Rebuilding Lives after Ebola
Two years ago Ebola ran rampant in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. While the Ebola epidemic there ended in 2016, the devastating effects of the virus continue to weigh on those who survived. Two survivors in recent months visited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sharing their personal stories of Ebola and its aftermath, while also describing efforts to provide their communities with opportunities for hope, healing and recovery.
Daddy, Advocating for Orphans in Sierra Leone
Daddy Hassan Kamara pointed to his shirt. One by one, he highlights each of his family members pictured on the shirt: “This is my mother, my father, my stepmother, my wife, my son and my two brothers,” he said. “And I have another son and sister who are not on the shirt.”
The shirt is Daddy’s prized possession, a vivid reminder of the lives lost during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Daddy lost all of his family and is the sole survivor. “I lost nine of my loved ones,” he said.
At the beginning of the outbreak, Daddy’s mother was the first to become ill. She was taken to the hospital and was misdiagnosed. The doctors initially thought that her sickness was from her diabetes or heart problems. After she passed away, they realized she had Ebola. Daddy was the next to become sick, followed by each of his other family members.
As an Ebola survivor, Daddy is now advocating for all survivors as the national spokesperson for the Ebola Survivors Association in Sierra Leone. Before Ebola, Daddy played football for a living.
“We are facing a lot of complications with the survivors in Sierra Leone,” he said. A large percentage face stigmatization and discrimination along with many medical issues.
Sierra Leone has more than 4,000 survivors and 10,000 documented orphans.
Ebola survivors have come together to support each other. They lost not only family, but all of their possessions. Daddy alone is caring for seven orphans—struggling to get food, clothing, medical support and education for each of them.
“Sometimes I just sit alone and start to cry because it brings my mind back to reflect on all the ones that I lost,” said Daddy.
He is not alone in his struggle.
Yusuf, Saying Goodbye
“When I approached the ambulance, people were crying, saying goodbye to me and staying far away,” said Yusuf Kabba. Four hundred to five hundred people come out on the day the ambulance came to get Yusuf to take him to an Ebola holding center in Sierra Leone.
“People in the community, family members, all stood watching, just watching,” he said. “They said, Yusuf, do you know Yusuf? Oh, yes, a young guy. Yusuf is dead now already. He’s now a dead man. He’s gone. It’s forever.” Yusuf contracted Ebola from his doctor in October 2014. According to Yusuf, the mentality during the beginning of the epidemic was “when you enter the ambulance, you are not going to come back, you are going to die absolutely.”
But Yusuf survived. “I am proud to be an Ebola survivor,” said Yusuf. He’s gone on to help and inspire countless others in his community to fight Ebola.
“We have to dance together, sing together, hope is alive,” Yusef recalled an Ebola survivor’s song. “We’ve got to kick Ebola, kick Ebola, hope is alive. We’ve got to kick Ebola, kick Ebola, hope is alive.”
Yusuf is the National President for the Ebola Survivors Association in Sierra Leone, a volunteer position. He is a key leader in the fight against Ebola and is serving as an ambassador for survivors. Before Ebola hit, he was a college student studying to become a high school teacher. He hopes to be able to go back to school to continue his studies, but for now he’s using his skills to help all survivors navigate the financial, social and medical barriers that they are facing.
“At the end of the day, there is one key thing: the passion for humanity,” said Yusuf. “I stand for the right of the people, and I stand for equality. When they started discriminating survivors in Sierra Leone, I said no, we deserve the same.”
On their visit to CDC, Daddy and Yusuf extended a special gratitude to CDC, to the American government. “On behalf of the survivors in my country, on behalf of the orphans, on behalf of the widows, on behalf of all affected and the Republic of Sierra Leone, we are proud to work with CDC and thank the American government for the support being given,” said Yusuf. “I thank CDC because we are actually working closely with them supporting the coordination and tending the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) that they initiated in Sierra Leone. That was the planning center for the whole fight and that supported us greatly.”
The Road to Recovery
Throughout the past year, the CDC Foundation, in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, CDC and Partners in Health, helped Sierra Leone transition from response to recovery. To address Ebola survivors’ urgent health problems, including vision loss, hearing loss, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, headaches and emotional and psychological distress, the partnership helped to scale up health services and strengthen the overall health infrastructure. Some achievements included:
- 3,060 survivors received eye care and 379 were diagnosed and treated for uveitis.
- 90 percent of male survivors 15 years old and over received sexual risk reduction counseling in Port Loko, 100 percent in Kambia and 95 percent in Kono.
- Two district hospitals and 17 peripheral health units, located near critical masses of survivors, or where survivors most frequented in Port Loko and Kono Districts, received medical equipment and regular clinical mentorship.
- Clinical components of the national Comprehensive Program for Ebola Survivors, which standardized a model of care for survivors, were developed, funded and operationalized.
The CDC Foundation and CDC, along with many global partners, worked alongside West Africa during the height of the Ebola epidemic. The partnerships and infrastructure developed during the crisis continue to reach the needs of survivors and are helping to build back communities.
Learn more about the CDC Foundation’s work during the Ebola epidemic.
Terri Heyns is the associate vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.