It is unbearable and painful to lose a loved one through any circumstance in life. But losing nine family members within one go is unimaginable and the agony is indescribable. Two siblings, who are half brother and sister, Idrissa Sannoh (22) and Isatu Jubu (26), from Monkey Bush, Waterloo, Western Rural District of Freetown, Sierra Leone, lost nine members of their family to the deadly Ebola Virus within one month between August and September 2014.
Considering Idrissa and Isatu’s youthful ages, one can describe them as Sierra Leone’s bravest survivors of Ebola. Idrissa and Isatu and three other family members including their mother survived while nine other family members died. To Idrissa, “ one fierce animal he has never seen in his life, stole his family members from him”.
It all started sometime in August 2014, when Idrissa’ s late father went to attend a funeral in Bo in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. On return from the funeral, Idrissa’ s father died after falling ill for one day. The late father and eight other members of the family are some of the first victims of Ebola in the western region of Freetown, which reportedly was hardest hit by the disease.
He was vomiting all over the place. At this time no one from the family suspected it was Ebola. We thought it was malaria. We also had no knowledge of what Ebola was. After my father was declared dead, some elders and I washed his body without any protection, said Idrissa.
“I was the first member of the family to fall ill in the same style my father had been sick after his death. Two days later, I rushed to the hospital on my own. At this time, we still did not know Ebola had caused my illness as there was no awareness about it in my area.
“On arrival to the hospital it seemed the nurses were afraid to touch me. I spent 24 hours lying on the floor vomiting with no one attending to me. There was confusion at the hospital with many patients lying on the floor due to limited bedding facilities,” said Idrissa. The nurses told me I was positive with Ebola a few days after my admission at the hospital and I spent two weeks at the hospital recovering. I thank God for surviving because I saw many people dying at the Kenema Government Hospital Ebola Treatment Centre,” he said.
Idrissa was discharged upon confirmation that he was negative with Ebola and only to arrive to an empty house. All Idrissa’ s family members including Isatu, had been taken to hospital. Isatu, who saw eight members of her family die one after the other at the hospital, takes up the story in another case study.
Idrissa, who is supposed to be in university, says he has no money to pay for his fees. His late father was the breadwinner and his mother is unemployed. “When I arrived from hospital, some of the members within the vicinity of my community who had come in contact with my family wanted nothing to do with me because they blamed my father for bringing the deadly disease in Monkey Bush. This has however improved and my family has been getting bits and pieces of food from some of the neighbours in the last few months”. ActionAid has trained community psychosocial groups to provide psychosocial support to people affected by Ebola such as Idrissa.
Asked if he has any fears of contracting Ebola again, Idrissa said: “I am taking all the precautions of avoiding bodily contact although this is very hard because I am living with nine family members at our three bedroomed house, five of them my direct family members and four other extended family members who joined my family due to displacement caused by Ebola.”
Idrissa’ s family is among some of the members of the community to receive food and non-food items from ActionAid as part of the organisation’s response to the national disaster which has claimed 3585 people in Sierra Leone since the outbreak in May 2014. The food items include sardines, luncheon meat, milk, mayonnaise, butter and sugar while the non-food items include toiletries, soap, tooth paste, tooth brushes, bed mattresses, pillows, and clothes.
ActionAid has assisted 103 Ebola survivors in Freetown. In addition, the organisation facilitated the training of nine nurses on how to look after Ebola patients at two Ebola Community Care Centres in the Western Rural District of Freetown. The Community Care Centres, which have since been decommissioned due to reduction in the Ebola cases, had a carrying capacity of 48 beds. The Community Care Centres were the interim centres for patients before they were referred to major Ebola treatment hospitals if found positive. ActionAid also facilitated the training of 20 neighbourhood watch members at the two centres who alerted the clinical staff of any new cases within the community.
ActionAid has supported at total of 265 210 people affected by the Ebola Virus in its seven operational districts in Sierra Leone between June 2014 and May 2015 as part of its Ebola response programme. Since the outbreak began well over a year ago, there have been 8695 confirmed cases, 3585 confirmed deaths and 4043 discahrged cases.