The Ebola Effect: Death, Stigma and Economic Hardship

It is a rainy August day in Monrovia, Liberia. The ActionAid Liberia (AAL) team is en route to St. Paul Bridge, a community heavily affected by the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and located in the suburb of Monrovia where ActionAid Liberia runs its ACTIVISTA campaign. It was through the ACTIVISTA youth group that AAL learned of the community’s tragic rate of infection.     

The AAL team arrived at the home of Kumbah Fayiah, commonly called Ma Fayiah, in the morning. Kumbah heads a household of 21 family members, including both her children and grandchildren. She is a business woman who sells fruits, vegetables and bush meat from the market stall adjacent to her home.

Kumbah Fayiah’s family is one among 19 others in the community that have been hit hard by Ebola. A couple weeks ago, her husband, Thomas, travelled to Lofa County for the burial of one of his relatives. He returned ill and died a few days later. With the Ebola awareness initiatives being made by the AAL ACTIVISTA youth group throughout the community, Kumbah’s family knew to contact the Ministry of Health. Thomas’ body was tested and found positive for the Ebola virus.

Kumbah and other family members who came in contact with her husband were quarantined in their homes. To date, she and eight others have tested negative for Ebola, but have not yet reached the end of their 21-day quarantine. A tenth family member, who was to be under quarantine in his own house, cannot currently be accounted for; like many others who have been quarantined, he has left his residence.

This is the unfortunate and frightening reality of the situation in Liberia; those who have been in contact with an infected person are requested to quarantine themselves due to the limited capacities of the health centres.

These individuals often leave their homes; propelled by denial, a need to procure food and other necessities, or fear of the consequences of stigmatization.

Kumbah and her family have themselves felt the effects of stigmatization due to their quarantine. Kumbah is no longer selling goods from her market booth; no one in the community will buy from her. With 21 members of her family to care for and no income, she is finding it difficult to make ends meet. 

The family’s struggles have been compounded by the dramatic rise in the cost of living. Since the onset of the Ebola outbreak in March of 2014, the Liberian economy has been in turmoil. The increasingly high exchange rate of the Liberian dollar to the American dollar, coupled with the declaration of a State of Emergency which restricts movements across counties, has caused the cost of food and basic necessities to sky-rocket.

In this period of need, Kumbah’s friends and community have withdrawn out of fear. She is devastated and lonely. 

I am so tired of living, because of the way people see my family. No one comes to see us, even our friends are afraid to come and visit us.

She has lost her husband, her livelihood and, she says, her will to live.

ActionAid Liberia, through its emergency Ebola Response Project, is partnering with a local public health organisation called Public Health Initiative Liberia to provide psychosocial support to affected families and communities, assistance to health facilities, and sensitization and awareness initiatives on Ebola prevention and control.

It was under the psychological support component of the project that ActionAid Liberia visited Kumbah and her family, and other affected and vulnerable families in St. Paul Bridge, to provide them with a sanitization kit and a solidarity pack of food and water. The pack will help to ease the families’ economic burdens, provide a sense of solidarity during a time of great stigmatization, and limit the likelihood that a quarantined individual will leave their home in search of supplies.   

File 25508ActionAid provides Kumbah and her family with sanitization kits

More Information on St. Paul Bridge:

The St. Paul Bridge Community is located on Bushrod Island, outside Monrovia, Liberia. It supports the major national port of Liberia and a variety of businesses. It also contains numerous residential areas and government buildings. Its proximity to the capital and industrial base make it an important commercial area for the country.  

The community has been hard-hit by the Ebola outbreak. Recently residents have protested over the handling of Ebola in their community; dead bodies have reportedly been left in the community for days, despite repeated calls to the Ministry of Health. 

It is vital we help stop the spread of this deadly virus. You can help by making a donation now.  Visit www.actionaid.org.uk/ebola