DAKAR, Nov 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sierra Leone is set to be declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday, when the west African nation will have gone 42 days without any new cases.
The world’s worst recorded outbreak of the virus has infected more than 28,500 people and killed 11,300 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since it began in December 2013.
Liberia was declared free of Ebola for the second time on Sept. 3. However, Guinea is still battling the virus, while the case of Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey, the first known survivor to have an apparently life-threatening relapse, has revived fears about the health of some 17,000 survivors.
Ahead of the Ebola-free declaration in Sierra Leone, frontline aid workers share their thoughts.
Ngozi Kennedy is a health specialist at the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF)
The last week of this countdown was really a mix of joy and anxiety because as you get closer you’re so hopeful, but with active cases in Guinea you still have a kind of fear: what if so close to the end there’s suddenly a case?
It’s a long awaited declaration. It will be a crazy day. Sierra Leoneans are fun-loving people. People will go out, and enjoy themselves. They’ll be a lot of thanksgiving - particular for those who are religious. I plan to take the kids out to somewhere special. On Sunday, we’ll be thanking God for his deliverance. The young people will go crazy - the beaches will be full, the bars will be full. And they deserve to celebrate - it’s been a very hard period.
Christmas is usually a time with family reunions but looking back to last December, cases were really high and no-one came from abroad to visit. We are looking forward to December so much, because if we make it, Christmas will be what it used to be. Children are very excited because the last year was just horrible. Leslie Scott is Sierra Leone’s national director at World Vision
It came as a mysterious disease, with a lot of assumptions and misconceptions which confused everybody. Suddenly, you don’t trust anyone. How do you deal with people? How do you walk? How do you move around? All of those social things were totally disrupted.
I was here throughout the civil war, and I was never as afraid as I was of Ebola. For the civil war, you knew where the war front was. But for Ebola, everybody around you is a suspect. It can happen to you. The slightest mistake and you are gone.
It was a sudden awakening for us to appreciate how bad our health system was, and communities are now demanding things they were supposed to have. In Sierra Leone, we don’t want to go back to where we were before Ebola. We want to transform our systems, to ensure they get to a level that stands the test of time.
Ruth Kauffman is a midwife at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)
I remember Kumba, who was seven months’ pregnant and had Ebola. Kumba knew that her baby was going to be born dead - she had felt no movement for some time. Kumba’s labour took about a day and a half. With Ebola, you don’t want to touch the baby and you don’t want to pull the placenta out; you leave all of that to happen on its own. What was really amazing was that, by the next morning, Kumba was stable.
Kumba’s experiences really confirmed to me that, with the resources and with specialised care, pregnant women can be helped to survive Ebola. We may not be able to save the lives of their unborn children, but we can save theirs. In all of my years with MSF, this has been the hardest but also the best thing that I have done. Alfred Sinnah is a media and advocacy officer at Oxfam
My work required constant interaction with community people which increased my fear of contracting the disease. Coming from Port Loko to Freetown and Kenema to see my family members always raised a lot of suspicion and fear amongst relatives and neighbours. An occasion to be celebrated was instead dreaded.
Seeing the back of Ebola in my country will be one of my most blissful moments. The declaration by the WHO will mean going back to normality after a year of restrictions on all shades of life. It will be the beginning of freedom. It will be a day of great remembrance of our fallen heroes who fought hard to see the back of the virus that depleted our country.
Idris Fornah is a psychosocial coordinator at International Medical Corps
The humanitarian response was primarily focused on getting medical care to the sick. I was very concerned that people in Sierra Leone who are still navigating through their post-war trauma are now getting re-traumatised by this devastating health crisis. Being a mental health practitioner, I knew there would be critical need to help people deal with the grief, trauma, fear, pain, stress, isolation and stigma linked to Ebola.
What I like about my job is being able to make a difference in people’s lives, especially helping to heal the mental scars faced by children and their families affected by the disease. I want to help alleviate fear and grief, but also offer comfort and support. For patients, I want to give them the strength and hope that they need to recover and reassure them that there’s a better chance of survival with hope. (Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Emma Batha; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)