We should all support and celebrate the brave, persistent — and in many ways, lucky — people of Africa who have survived Ebola. Sadly, as has often been true with prior pandemics, survivors are more than occasionally now ostracized and stigmatized, even in their own communities and families — due primarily to unfounded fears. This is that story — as told in the upcoming issue of The Atlantic. A worthy if somber read, indeed.
As a longer form read, it will take a moment — but trust me — well-worth your time invested. As much as this site has lauded the humanitarian efforts of both Merck and Gilead (even as they battled over patent rights, on other topics), we do feel compelled here not to just paint a “happy face” on the whole situation, as Ebola winds down, on the mother continent. This is in many ways, a still unfolding tragedy, even if no other acute case emerges. That is so, in no small part due to the suffering these brave people otherwise lucky enough to have over-powered the virus in their own bodies now endure — at the hands of their own communities. Do go read it all:
. . . .Near one of the billboards, a survivor of the disease, Jenneh Getu, looked out a hospital window at the ambulances in the parking lot being pelted by hard rain, as the psychological-counseling session she’d come for began. “The sickness grabbed my husband,” Getu said. “After four days, he died. We had just finished burying him when my son’s skin started getting hot.” Getu brought her 3-year-old from her rural hometown to Monrovia for help. “My son died on my lap in the taxi,” she said. “I was forced to hold that body tight so people didn’t know it’s Ebola.”
Getu called the health team charged with handling Ebola cases in the capital, but no one came. For days, she sat with her son’s corpse in an empty house in Monrovia. Eventually, she got sick, turned herself in at a treatment center, and waited to die. But she didn’t. “I survived,” she said. “But I feel like a different human being. I’m different from other people. Even my family rejects me now.” Emmanuel Ballah, the attending physician’s assistant, handed her a tissue. He and his colleagues at the Doctors Without Borders clinic within the hospital treat several hundred Ebola survivors for medical and psychological problems.
“There was a huge stigma against survivors,” Ballah told me later, as we walked through the clinic’s lobby. “People saw terrible things in Ebola treatment units. But leaving the ETUs, their challenges were just beginning. . . .”
Saying that it was ever thus is not an answer, at all. We must do better, as a planet. As one people. All of us — as citizens of this blue dot. Here endeth the sermon. . . .