GUEST POST|EBOLA: What are the real effects on survivors?

Psychological Impact on Survivors of Ebola by E.  Onah

As the world’s attention is now on a race to overtake the spread of the disease, it is also vital we do not forget those who have beaten the disease.  They have the certificate of victory but face an uncertain future.  Apart from having been faced with this deadly epidemic with  apparently low survival rates, those surviving Ebola have to deal with several other battles.  These challenges definitely have a psychological impact on survivors of Ebola.

#1 Stigma
Many want nothing to do with those who have survived Ebola.  Fear is now the new war apart from the disease.  Several are fearful of catching Ebola from survivors even though they no longer have the disease and their immune system is Ebola resistant.   I heard that for some in Sierra Leone, they are also branded witches and wizards in some communities  for having survived Ebola!  Sad but true and shocking.

#2 Loss
Survivors often did not know that their family members had died.  On admission in hospital, they did not know where they were or their welfare.  Due to the contagiousness of the disease, well meaning family could not visit.  The impact of this isolation can easily make some survivors go mad.   Imagine the pain of surviving only to have no-one to go back to.  Imagine the shock of the loss.  One lady in Sierra Leone went back to her home to find her husband and two of her three kids dead.  The remaining kid soon followed suit immediately afterwards.  Picking up the pieces for her is going to be one long haul.

#3 Rebuilding lives
Orphans from the epidemic are one of the most affected on his challenge.   The support they had from the adults in their lives are now gone.   In addition, the stigma associated with having battled with Ebola, makes it even more difficult to get foster or adoptive parents.  These children could end up as street kids fending for their lives.  Some of the older siblings have had to take on the responsibility of early parenthood when they are children themselves.  It is a tall order indeed.

Adults face their own challenges as well.  There was a report of a survivor  in Liberia taking his car in for repairs and no mechanic agreeing to touch the vehicle.   Another report was of someone coming forward to testify of having survived Ebola and having no-one take the microphone from him.  Physical survival has been won, but now there is a fight for sanity.

#4 Post Ebola Syndrome

New reports indicate visual problem including blindness with survivors of Ebola.   There are also reports of long term disability as well with survivors experiencing mobility problems.  As this is the worst epidemic of the rare disease, research is scanty.  There is now a rush for those in the field to examine what are the long term physical effects of surviving a ghastly disease.  On it’s own being diagnosed with some chronic conditions can be very traumatic.  This is yet another spanner in the works.

It is evident that there are deep psychological impacts of Ebola on survivors.  Once Ebola has been defeated, and even now, we need to look at the mental health of those who defied the odds.

eze onahE. Onah is the co-founder of Defying Mental Illness – Put a full stop.  He is the author of the book series Meditations and Confessions.  His wife, Zoe A. Onah, is the author of Defying the Odds (available at hugely discounted prices on Amazon).  Defying Mental Illness (www.defyingmentalillness.com) are donating every proceed from the organisation’s book sales  to Kings College Sierra Leone Partnership for Ebola.  Kings College are active at Freetown’s Connaught Hospital in Western Area of Sierra Leone which is now the area with the largest new cases.

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