Ebola: a story of recovery but life cannot return to normal

Jojo with her mother and staff from the Ebola Treatment Unit
Jojo with her mother and staff from the Ebola Treatment Unit

A six-foot security fence surrounds Gbanger sports stadium in Bong County, Liberia. It separates Ebola ‘contacts’ (those who don’t have symptoms but have been in direct contact with Ebola patients) from the villagers nearby.

It’s a holding centre – a place for families and unaccompanied children to stay while their loved ones are treated for the virus. It’s also where the same family members wait to see if the dreaded first symptoms will present themselves. Staffed by Ebola survivors due to the high risk of working with those residing here, the atmosphere is one of apprehension.

It was here that I met a one-year-old girl called Jojo. She was being fed as I arrived, wearing nothing but a nappy and a pair of small white socks. I later discovered her clothes had been burned in case they were contaminated with Ebola.

Her father had recently died from the virus and her mother was fighting for her life in the nearby Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU). Jojo was on her own.

“Fighting to keep my baby alive”

Just over a week later, I visited the ETU again. As we waited in the support hut, a health worker in personal protective equipment walked through the ward doorway cradling a small baby. Her hair had been shaved to allow an IV drip to be inserted, but I recognised her immediately: it was Jojo. My heart sank.

A lady followed the pair closely behind – Jojo’s mother. Thankfully, she had recovered from the virus but was staying in the unit to care for her baby. As an Ebola survivor, she was in no danger of contracting the virus again.

“I thought the worst day of my life was when they told me I had Ebola,” Jojo’s mother told me.

“I prayed for my life but the one grace was that Jojo wasn’t with me. When they told me I was better I went home, I was so happy, but three days later Jojo had a fever and I just knew. Now I’m back here fighting to keep my baby alive.”

Although the odds of Jojo surviving Ebola were less than 40%, the team at the unit were hopeful she could win the fight against this deadly virus. She was breast-feeding from her mother, an Ebola survivor, and was therefore exposed to the antibodies that had saved her mother’s life. I didn’t feel so sure.

A long, complex recovery

Two weeks later I received the news I had been waiting for. Jojo had beaten Ebola. She made a remarkable recovery; one that so many sadly did not make.

Yet this isn’t the end of hardship for Jojo and her mother. All of their belongings have been burned as a precaution to limit the spread of Ebola, and their husband, father, and breadwinner has died. Life cannot simply go back to normal.

Their situation is an all too common example of the lasting impact this epidemic will have on those who have been touched by it. The long-term effect of this outbreak will be felt for years to come, and entire communities will need support long after the last Ebola case has been treated.

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