Leaving the Treatment Centre
Patricia James is the unofficial spokesperson for this particular group of five Ebola survivors being discharged from the Red Cross Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone. She is vivacious, engaging and very caring, fussing around the other survivors to reassure them that they are indeed going home.
Patricia, a nurse and mother of two from the capital of Freetown, considers herself lucky that she was the only one in her family to contract Ebola. “Thanks to god, I didn’t get anyone else sick in my family. So many of my colleagues have died after having gotten it from patients in the hospital.”
The outgoing nurse spent six days in the treatment centre before being declared Ebola-free. During this time she made her presence known to all staff and patients who were all drawn to her warm personality. “You ask anyone, where is Patricia, and they can all tell you. Everyone knows who Patricia is,” she says giggling.
Amongst the jubilation, however, is worry that she and her friends will be stigmatized when they return to their communities. They just do not know how they will be received. “Of course my family will be happy to see me. But there will be others who are afraid of me. I’ll have my certificate saying I’m Ebola-free and I’ll talk to them to tell them I’m not sick. I’m expecting them to be frightened, but I’ll educate them that I’m well.”
Going home without our children
Like Patricia, Masa, 29, is relieved to be leaving the centre and looks forward to seeing her family, but the loss of her child, who was admitted to the centre with her, makes her return bittersweet. “My mother and father are waiting for me, but it is difficult to go back without my baby,” Masa explains.
Masa is not the only survivor to return to her home without a loved one. Zaina Bangura, 38, also from Freetown, entered the treatment centre with four of her five children. Her husband had already died at home from Ebola. Zaina nursed him during his illness, as well as their children, despite becoming sick herself. As Zaina prepares to return home, she will do so alone. Her four children died while at the treatment centre.
Zaina looks to the future with much uncertainty, but is determined to care for her one remaining child. “I used to sell cooked rice, but now I have no money to buy rice because my husband used to give me money. I want to start up a new business, but maybe people will not buy from me.”
In its two months of operating, the Red Cross treatment centre in Kenema has discharged 118 patients, however, reintegration can be an immense challenge as fear and stigmatization can result in the former patients being ostracized. Each is discharged with a certificate stating they are Ebola-free. They also receive a start-up kit consisting of food supplies, a mattress, basic non-food items, and the equivalent of approximately 34 US dollars to help facilitate their return.
To ensure their successful reintegration, Red Cross volunteers engage communities before the survivors return to explain that they are no longer infectious. Survivors are also monitored after returning to their homes, and continue to receive psychosocial assistance from the Red Cross.
Although blood tests prove that Ebola has left the body, the psychological scars left behind in the wake of the virus, see survivors embarking on a new healing process.
The Irish Red Cross Ebola appeal is assisting in reaching millions of people who could be affected by Ebola. In total the Red Cross has 16 Ebola operations in West Africa, targeting 39 million people.
For more details on the Irish Red Cross appeal, visit www.redcross.ie
By Lisa Pattison, IFRC