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People Groups: Ebola survivors

By AfriGO Team

In March 2014 the news of an outbreak of Ebola virus in northern Guinea surprised the world, because Ebola had never been identified in the region before. The number of people who contracted the disease quickly mounted, as it spread into neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

As the epidemic has drawn to a close in 2016, the WHO reports that 28,616 West Africans were infected with Ebola virus and more than 11,000 died. However, it is believed that the official statistics underestimate the number of people who fell victim to the disease.

The survivors’ ordeal did not end when they left the treatment center. Today many people experience ongoing health problems: deafness, partial blindness, swollen joints, and post-traumatic stress and depression. Some lost their entire family, and have a sense of guilt about their survival, in addition to their grief. Many have not been able to resume their former activities or jobs for physical and emotional reasons. Children have been left without parents.

Although they no longer carry the Ebola virus, survivors have been stigmatized and rejected. When they returned to their homes, still weak from their lengthy sickness, they often found themselves locked out and their belongings burned. Some have been sent away by their own spouses, out of fear that the virus is still hiding in their bodies. Others have been accused of killing their families or neighbours with witchcraft. When a flare-up occurs with no apparent source, fear of survivors is reignited. As a result, many have had to move into new communities, where they can hide their status as Ebola survivors.

Worst of all, Ebola survivors are not always welcome when they seek medical treatment.  But ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, is one facility that provides free health care for survivors, assuring them that they will not be turned away.

Recently a nurse told the story of a pregnant Ebola survivor who came to ELWA Hospital with malaria. She had begun intravenous treatment at another facility, but left when she had a bad reaction. Because of her survivor status, she had been forced to lie on the ground, and was neglected when she had the reaction. Since then she had not felt her baby move.

When the ELWA doctor heard of this woman’s concern about her unborn baby, he brought the portable ultrasound machine to her bedside. He showed her on the screen that her baby was moving, and pointed out the beating heart. Still, she was anxious because she could not feel any movement herself. So a nurse connected her to a foetal heart monitor and explained what signs of health could be seen on the printout.  The woman smiled for the first time since she arrived, relieved and at peace.

Serving Ebola survivors is an opportunity for the Church to be like Jesus, to touch the untouchable and accept those who have been rejected.  The Evangelical Church of Liberia has provided food and assistance to survivors’ families. Through a ministry of Trauma Healing Workshops launched by SIM and implemented through Liberian churches, many survivors have found healing for their grief by the Holy Spirit, hope in the love of their Heavenly Father, and acceptance in the body of Christ.

Ask God To

  • Restore physical and emotional health to survivors of Ebola;
  • Remove the stigma of Ebola and inspire his people to reach out to Ebola survivors in their communities;
  • Comfort those who continue to grieve the loss of family members to the disease;
  • Bless and equip pastors who are leading their churches to love and embrace Ebola survivors.

Photo by Bethany Fankhauser

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