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Stories of Ebola Virus Survivors

DECEMBER 2. 2014 By Oswald Hanciles

These are the stories of ‘Ebola Survivors in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There is Sulaiman Kargbo, 32 years of age. He was a taxi driver.  (Telephone No:  077 486632) He lives in a room at a place called Blue House, near ‘Grannie Church’ in Wellington, in the far east of Freetown.    It was in the middle of the night. A friend knocked frantically on his door. The friend told him that he should use his taxi to take his sick father to the hospital. Sulaiman was scared. Ebola fear! The friend assured him that his father was in a normal bout with his hypertension – and definitely did not have Ebola.

He opened his door; and made arrangement with another taxi driver to take his friend and his father to the hospital. He sat at the back of the car with his friend. Sitting at the back of the taxi to the hospital, Sulaiman pushed himself as far away as possible from his friend and his sick father. It was about 2 a.m.

Sulaiman’s friend took his sick father to Satellite Hospital on Kingharman Road – the medical staff there refused to even allow them to enter the hospital compound. It was the same at Cottage Hospital in East End of Freetown. After being rejected at a third hospital in East End, they got to the main referral hospital in the country, Connaught Hospital, at about 8 a.m. The instant response of the nurses around was to order Sulaiman and his father out of the hospital. Sulaiman pleaded with them – saying his father did not have Ebola, and it was likely his normal hypertension. Father and son were made to sit on a long wooden bench – with the father laying his head on the son’s lap. After about one hour, the son grew alarmed, as there was no movement from that father; and, he could not heed to his calls. The other taxi driver, several years older, then, loosened the father’s shirt buttons, and felt for heart beats. He reported to the son that his father was dead. 

The medical staff at the hospital did the ‘swab’ to check for Ebola.  Within 48 hour period, the report showed that the father was ‘Ebola negative’. The local Imam in the area then helped to wash the corpse.  Two days after the burial, the eldest son of Sulaiman’s father died. Five other people died in the same house within one week. The imam also died.

Sulaiman got sick. He was pretty sure it was Ebola – though his father had been labeled ‘Ebola negative’. When he started having a hiccup, he went to Connaught Hospital, and reported his symptoms – and told them about the deaths in his house. He was told by the nurses to return to his home, and take a lot of water for his hiccup. After a week, his condition worsened, and he started having severe fever, and vomiting.  It was then that he decided to send his wife and child to their village in the provinces – to save them. He then   had a taxi friend to drive him to Upgun; and took an okada to Connaught Hospital. At the hospital, they took his ‘Ebola swab’; but, told him to return home. After about three days, they got to him – he was Ebola positive. He was taken to the Ebola hospital at Lakka.

At Lakka, Sulaiman would make sure he would drink a lot of water; and would do a lot of physical exercises.  Amidst the gruesome sight of the almost-dead and the dying, Sulaiman survived.  He even started helping the doctors and nurses to handle other Ebola patients that were being admitted into the hospital – feeding those who could barely sit up; helping them to drink water and other juices; changing  the clothes of those who would defecate on themselves, etc. When he was discharged after being declared Ebola Free, he returned to an empty home. His taxi had been taken from him the moment he was sick. Now, he is unemployed.  He has applied to be taken as a worker in the Ebola Center in Lakka. He is waiting for a response from them.   His landlord is badgering him to pay his yearly rent of Le350,000 – which was due when he was in the ‘Ebola hospital’. I asked him how he manages to find food to eat, and he responded, “Nar God nor more, bra.  Man dem dae gee me five thousand ya…two thousand ya….”. His voice choked. He has twice attempted suicide.

Sulaiman attended the Samaria Primary School in central Freetown; graduating with his NPSE certificate in 1996. He attended the Prince of Wales school in Kingtom for two years, leaving school at Form Two.  He complained of heavy stigmatization when he would try to get close to even people who used to be his close friends, “Dem all dae shub comot near me, bra.  Dem say are get Ebola”.

Mohamed Turay

Another survivor is Mohamed Turay, 37 years of age. He is Private in the Sierra Leone military. He joined the army when he was just 16, in 1993. It was his wife, Ramatu Turay, a petty trader, who first got sick when she returned from a funeral in Waterloo. She died on September 21st, 2014, during the three days lockdown. She had been diagnosed as being Ebola positive. 12 other people in the house she had attended the funeral also had died. She was the 13th.

Then, within a week of her wife’s death, Mohamed started vomiting.  He went to Connaught hospital himself. They did the ‘Ebola swab’ on him. And, told him to return to his house. Before the report was out, he was told by a friend that he should avoid any Ebola center, as he would be infected with the Ebola virus should he go to them. He went to the 34 Military Hospital in Wilberforce. He was about to be taken to the Ebola hospital, but, he fled, and hid himself. Three days later, the report was out – he was Ebola positive. When his condition deteriorated, Mohamed went again to Connaught hospital, where he was referred to the Ebola hospital at Lakka.

Mohamed Barrie

Another Ebola survivor is Mohamed Barrie, 22 years ago. He used to earn his living as a comedian in Calaba Town. He was ‘famous’ as a big denier of the Ebola virus disease –making huge jokes about it that would get people to laugh their sides out. He was also woken up at night to help take the father of his friend to hospital.  The friend’s father was a very old man. They also faced rejections at three hospitals that night, including Connaught Hospital. The man died at the hospital at Macaulay Street, off Mountain Cut. The medical staff there said they had done an Ebola swab on the man; and the report was that the man was Ebola negative.

The hospital staff told them to take the corpse home and bury it.  Within a week, sixteen people in the house died – of apparent Ebola.  Mohamed went to Connaught hospital when he started feeling what he felt were Ebola symptoms. He was advised by a friend that if he continued going to the hospital he would be injected with the Ebola virus. He went underground – inside his girlfriend’s room. When his condition got worse, he went to Connaught hospital again. He was then referred to the Lakka Ebola hospital. He survived.  But, he has not disposed of the clothes and bedspread that he was using when he was sick with Ebola.

The Medical Response so far

I make contact with Dr. Donald Bash-Taqi, the Director of Hospital and Laboratory at the Connaught Hospital. I explained to him the stories above. He said, “That is news to me”. He referred me to a Dr. T.D. Kamara, who he said is more involved with Ebola issues. I couldn’t get Dr. Kamara to comment on whether apparent negligence of staff at the hospital could diagnose patients as Ebola negative, discharge them, and they move into the wider community to infect others with probable Ebola.

What these stories inform me is be unrelenting on  the point I have been making in over ten articles on the Ebola War in this Column: to have more DRAMA videos on the Ebola Enemy done on video, put on CD plates, and widely circulated. Most of the talking…talking…talking…done in innumerable sensitization exercises could not be getting to a lot of people. And, as I once wrote in this Column, as far as the ‘Ebola exams’ are concerned, ‘99% is failure’. We can only stop the transmission of Ebola, and be declared an Ebola Free country, with a ‘100% grade’.

Another point which these stories bring out is the need for ‘Ebola Citizens’ Monitoring’. Thousands of our people (especially youth; and those who can be classified as ‘moral people’, or, religious people) should help with such monitoring. There should be several times DAILY monitoring on what is really going on…on the ground. There should be more information sharing among all health workers involved in this Ebola War. The Major Palo Conteh-headed NERC should coordinate information such sharing process; and, stimulate more synergy among all ‘combatants’ in the Ebola War.

On August 16, 2014, during an ‘Ebola Press Conference’ at State House, President Ernest Bai Koroma had told local and international journalists that everyone must speak “the truth” about what is happening on the ground in the Ebola War. As apparent Ebola cases are turned away from hospitals, we need to know why?  Are our hospitals adequate to cope with the current crisis? Or, is it a case of some (or, many) insensitive medical staff in these hospitals? There is also the troubling probability in the stories above – that the equipment being used to test people for the Ebola virus could be of poor quality, and therefore, lack potency, resulting in the testing of likely Ebola cases as Ebola negative.

(Reported by Jaime Yaya Barry, B-Trixx Films)

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