, 17 August, 2020 / 7:00 PM
To the rest of the world, the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa evokes vivid memories of one of the worst viral infections ever recorded in history that left thousands in several west African countries dead. But for people living in these countries, it is the aftermath of the epidemic that has been the worst to deal with.
According to the leadership of a Church-based organization working with Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone where the disease was most widespread, there is no single day that passes by without a reminder of the devastation that was caused by the deadly disease.
“The world may have moved on after West Africa was declared free from Ebola but for people living here, the pain and devastation that was caused by the disease has become part of the daily experiences,” Fr. Peter Konteh, the Executive Director Caritas Freetown in Sierra Leone told ACI Africa in an interview.
He added, referring to the aftermath of the Ebola crisis particularly in Sierra Leone, “Here, Ebola survivors were left with lifelong health complications. The women have suffered early menopause while men suffer from erectile dysfunction and severe headaches. Most of these aftereffects are highly stigmatizing for the survivors.”
When health agencies declared that Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal were finally free of Ebola in 2016, there were 28,652 suspected, probable and confirmed cases and 11,325 related deaths in all the six West African countries.
Other countries outside West Africa including Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom reported a case of Ebola each.
According to the statistics that were provided by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Sierra Leone was the most hit in the six West African countries that recorded Ebola cases, with a total of 14,124 suspected, probable and confirmed cases and 3,956 deaths followed by Liberia, which recorded 10,678 suspected, probable and confirmed cases.
According to Fr. Peter, over 4,000 survivors have been left to battle permanent health complications and loss of dignity in Sierra Leone, with about 1,500 victims living in the country’s capital, Freetown alone.
The Cleric, known for his unmatched zeal in creating international awareness during and after the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone told ACI Africa that Ebola survivors not only suffered from the cruel infection but were also negatively affected economically.
“The Ebola survivors lost their loved ones and suffered intermittent health challenges, stigma, discrimination and low self-esteem. Many of them lost their jobs because of this discrimination,” says Fr. Peter.
Initially, Caritas Freetown ran a feeding program for the Ebola survivors in Freetown, providing rice to the families several times a month. But with time, the program became unsustainable, according to the Sierra Leonean Cleric who mobilized for funds to start sustainable economic projects for the survivors.
Beginning 2018 and through last year, the charity arm of the Church in Freetown, in partnership with Caritas Germany ran the project, “Enhancing Ebola survivors income generating and educational opportunities project in the western area Sierra Leone,” which equipped women in the western part of Sierra Leone with technical skills in catering, event decor and cosmetology.
Justifying the focus on women in the Southern part of the country, the Caritas Freetown Director said, “It is the Diocesan boundary. Besides, it is the Western side of Sierra Leone that was hit the most by the Ebola outbreak. There are so many Ebola survivors in this area from impoverished backgrounds despite living close to the city.”
Other components of the project included educational support to school going children of Ebola survivors and provision of healthcare services to 1,000 Ebola survivors, widows, orphans and children of Ebola survivors.
Government promises to provide free medical services to the survivors have never been fulfilled, according to Fr. Peter who founded St. Mary’s Interim Child Care Centre within the Archdiocese of Freetown to provide a safe haven for rape victims seeking justice within the west African country.
Towards the end of 2019, Caritas Freetown, through mobile clinics, treated 1,263 Ebola survivors drawn from members of 10 communities who were provided with accessible and free of cost medical services at the comfort of their varied localities.
Those treated, Fr. Peter told ACI Africa, had various symptoms including headaches, chronic pain, ocular problems, lack of erection, loss of hair, early menopause and ear problems.
The project was also aimed at enhancing psychosocial support including trauma healing, counselling and body mapping for survivor’s children and adults.
During the implementation of the project, some 50 women drawn from impoverished backgrounds were taken through six months of intensive skills training in catering, event decor and cosmetology, practical sessions and apprenticeship and allowed to graduate in a colorful ceremony.
The women were then awarded certificates of completion and equipped with start-up kits to set up their income-generating ventures in their specific areas of training.
After reviewing the progress of the 50 women, the leadership of Caritas Freetown has embarked on a market assessment process to find out the ventures that are more profitable for the women.
“This week, we have been conducting a market survey in five communities including Waterloo, Rokel, Looking town Allen Town and Portee with the help of the survivors,” Fr. Peter told ACI Africa during the Friday, August 14 interview.
“The survey continues through next week and a few more days thereafter,” he said, and added, “The aim is to identify commodities that are essential commodities that move very fast. Already, we have discovered that household food items and charcoal move very fast and would fetch money for the women.”
With a main objective to improve income-generating, educational opportunities and the well-being of 1,950 Ebola survivors and their families by December 2020, the “bridge project,” according to Fr. Peter, also aims at providing access to health care services for an additional 900 Ebola survivors and their families, among other objectives.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa