When Kadiatu Bangura saw her brother, Emmanuel, for the first time after her release from the International Red Cross-operated Ebola treatment center near Kenema, she ran into his arms crying tears of joy.
She had not seen him for weeks and was not sure she would ever see him again.
The treatment center, in one of the areas hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak, released its first survivors of the deadly disease this past weekend.
Of the four west African nations affected by the Ebola outbreak, Liberia has been hit the hardest, with 3,458 people infected, and 1,830 of those killed by the disease. Sierra Leone has had 1,813 reported cases and 593 deaths, the WHO said.
Fearful of health workers
When the hospital workers first approached 11-year-old Kadiatu, she said she was afraid – the workers were dressed in white and she could not see their faces.
Kadiatu said she now realizes that they had to dress like that to protect themselves from contracting the deadly disease.
Emmanuel Bangura said he realized that Kadiatu was suffering symptoms associated with Ebola, such as diarrhea and vomiting, when he called for help.
He said he is glad he noticed the signs of the disease early so that Kadiatu could get treatment.
“I feel happy. I appreciate God, for having my sister back, because I understand this is a deadly sickness,” Emmanuel Bangura said.
In a nearby village, in the Waterloo district, about an hour from the capital, Freetown, Osman Sesay holds up his certificate of discharge from the Red Cross facility.
Sesay said he feels better and is happy to be home.
Although the two survivors have beaten the Ebola virus, Sesay and Kadiatu may still face challenges, said Gandi Kallon, who works with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
“A survivor coming back into a community creates a big challenge. … Stigmatization has been a major problem, not just for survivors, but for those [too] with the sickness to come forward and go to a hospital so action can be taken,” Kallon said.
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the Red Cross in Freetown are working to try to erase the stigma.
Inform the community
Red Cross spokesperson Patrick Massaquoi said that means working first with those who survive Ebola.
“They go through a lot of counseling at the treatment center. Then social workers bring them to their community,” Massaquoi said.
“The Red Cross is across all districts (in Sierra Leone) so the local Red Cross in that district goes to the communities and meets family members and political and traditional authorities in order for them to receive survivors in the community,” he added.
Red Cross staff members also speak to the community where survivors live, to explain Ebola prevention measures, how to detect it and stress that early treatment will increase chances of survival.
They also explain to the community that survivors should not be feared.
John Andrews, a member of Sesay’s community of Banga Ground, said he is listening.
“We are happy to see our brother back, he is totally healed,” Andrews said.
Young Kadiatu said one of the first things she will do is talk to her community about Ebola prevention, too, so that she can help prevent anyone else from getting sick.