An empty crèche for Ebola infants is a sign of a disease in decline but, for Yvonne and Matena, it also sparks vivid memories.
Both women are nurses at the Save the Children-run facility in Macenta, Guinea. They show me round the facility, where they’ve been looking after children who have lost parents or caregivers to Ebola, offering daily care and support until they can be reunited with their families.
But they are also Ebola survivors – brave women who have experienced enormous hardship and loss because of this deadly virus.
Yvonne, 29, was admitted to the local Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Macenta in August last year, along with her husband and child. She arrived during the initial spike in caseload in Macenta, one of the Ebola hotspots in Guinea’s forest region.
“When I arrived, there were over 100 people in the treatment centre,” she says. “It was so crowded that there wasn’t even a place for my family and me in the first few days.”
Yvonne was in the treatment centre for 12 days. During that time, she watched her husband and child die. She has recovered, but the scars from that time have not healed.
Matena, 21, was forced into marriage at the age of just 14. She gave birth to two children soon after.
In September, she was admitted to the ETC with her husband and her children. Matena and her husband survived, but both of her children died shortly after arriving. “They became my life,” she says, “but they were taken away from me so fast.”
Her story is one of heartbreak and abandonment. After being discharged from the ETC, her husband packed his things and left for good. “He told me that he couldn’t stay married to a woman who had no children,” she says.
Stigma for victims
Ebola hit Macenta hard. To date, there have been 714 admissions to the ETC – that’s nearly 25% of the caseload for the entire country. The resulting stigma in the community has been difficult to contain.
“People wouldn’t even come near me,” Matena reveals. “Some even accused me of killing my own children in the ETC so I could get a job at Save the Children’s crèche.”
Save the Children and other partners have placed a heavy emphasis on raising awareness in the community. The situation has now improved, but there is still a lot to do.
An inspiration to the community
In the midst of the horror, Yvonne and Matena have become close friends, as well as colleagues.
As Ebola survivors, they are an inspiration to the communities and children they serve.
With the final child now discharged from the crèche, Yvonne and Matena are supporting our Child Protection team, caring for children affected by Ebola.
“To be able to continue to work for other children affected by this disease is what inspires me now,” says Yvonne. Guinea will need more heroes like them over the coming months to help their communities recover, and bring an end to this epidemic and once and for all.