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Health

Ebola Survivors: Ending Ebola, One Story at a Time

Just three months ago, Anthony Banbury gave an urgent briefing to the UN Security Council stressing the immediate importance of forcefully combatting the Ebola outbreak. The then head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) spoke from UN’s Ebola Response headquarters in Ghana:

“Ebola got a head start on us … It is far ahead of us, it is running faster than us, and it is winning the race. If Ebola wins, we the peoples of the United Nations lose so very much…”

In October 2014, week by week infection rates were steadily increasing in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and future projections of the disease’s spread portended unprecedented travesty. International organizations continued their calls for increased human resources, funding, and logistic support in order to contain a public health crisis unparalleled in scope and magnitude.

Today, three months later, heroic and resilient efforts from international aid organizations, community leaders, Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, and Guineans are transforming the Ebola narrative from crisis to recovery.

The most conservative of Ebola outbreak forecasts and projected scenarios from October are proving - thankfully - to be off-the-mark from present day reality.

Who or what is responsible for this decrease in transmission rates and increase in overall optimism?

Well, let’s take  into account that these projections forecasting explosions in infection rates assumed October-levels of intervention would stay steady. We can attribute the downward trend of new cases to the ramp-up of multi-faceted response efforts on both international and community levels.

Surely, without direct foreign aid, logistical support, and international health care professionals bravely committing to slow the spread of Ebola, we would not be where we are today. However, Ebola, on a micro scale, is a disease affecting West African communities, families, and individuals. A disease that has been spread and sheltered by cultural practices, fear, and interpersonal misunderstanding.

Correcting the thoughts and behaviors contributing to Ebola’s spread has required the leadership and voice of individuals within these Sierra Leonean, Guinean, and Liberian communities that have first-hand experience with the devastating disease. One such group of individuals that has played a leading role in cutting chains of transmission and educating their communities with life-saving health information: the Ebola survivors.

The Ebola virus has taken upwards of 8,600 lives, but thousands have survived the disease, and remain integral to the fight to stamp out Ebola in their home communities and countries. Living amidst fear and facing widespread stigma, Ebola survivors are providing direct medical support and working to end the fear that ostracizes the survivor community and allows the disease to spread.

According to the WHO and other international health organizations, the Ebola virus thrives on a lack of public health information and denial. Here lies the importance of the voices of Ebola survivors. Survivors are uniquely equipped to inform their fellow citizens and brave enough to share their own stories to eradicate misconception, and ultimately, the Ebola virus.

In Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, Ebola survivors have begun to share their stories of survival, recovery, and leadership on mobile phones as part of the #ISurvivedEbola campaign.

The campaign, supported by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, connects Ebola survivors to the public and provides a platform to humanize and illuminate their journeys. An invaluable tool both for the survivors and their communities, #ISurvivedEbola showcases the region’s transition into a new phase of Ebola response: bringing infection rates to zero and building back better.

Take the story of Mamadou Alimou Diallo, a 21-year-old Guinean who contracted Ebola while burying his uncle, a victim of the virus. Shared on #ISurivedEbola, Mamadou’s story touches upon several major themes of the Ebola outbreak; public health misinformation, overcoming public stigma, and the effect of the outbreak on West Africa’s youth.

Mamadou’s story, and many other stories featured within the campaign, consist of information and optimism, two tools essential in ending Ebola and rebuilding damaged infrastructure and public morale in West Africa.

A robust global response, and the fearlessness of engaged locals in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, has allowed the world to catch up to Ebola's blazing speed out of the gate, but we have not yet won the race. Continuing support of Ebola Survivors and efforts that amplify their voice will ensure that we continue to set the pace and win the race against this outbreak.

To watch more Ebola Survivor stories, check out the #ISurvivedEbola campaign.

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Taylor B. Light