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Health care workers are pictured at the Magbenteh Ebola Treatment Centre, run by the African Union support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA), in Magbenteh, Sierra Leone on Dec. 30, 2014.
Martine Perret/UNMEER
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Why Ebola Survivors Like Me Can Help Fight COVID-19

By Anastasia Moloney

Dec 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – After losing his sister to Ebola and narrowly surviving the disease himself, health worker Sherry Bangura is on a mission to spread awareness about COVID-19 and stop it spreading.

About 1 in 3 Ebola patients survived the outbreak which killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.

Bangura, 32, from Sierra Leone, says survivors like him are in a unique position to educate others about their experience and the importance of hygiene and vaccines.

As countries gear up to roll out COVID-19 vaccines, Bangura is on the front lines — one of millions of health workers ensuring vulnerable people understand the importance of immunization.

Working for the medical charity Partners In Health, he goes door-to-door explaining how to use face masks and stay safe in the northern Port Loko district — a former hotspot of Sierra Leone's Ebola outbreak.

This is his story:

Every day I go to visit my community and talk to Ebola survivors — widows, orphans, and children.

I represent over 750 Ebola survivors. Many are seriously suffering. I advocate for their welfare, health and mental care, hear their problems, and get their voices heard.

Now I must also try to prevent Ebola survivors getting infected with COVID-19.

Ebola survivors can also be a point of entry to communities. We can give testimony that people can trust and believe.

I share experiences that are vital in fighting COVID-19 in terms of mitigating fears, in telling people about the seriousness of this disease.

Ebola survivors have a responsibility to step up and play a role in getting the COVID-19 vaccine to communities. We are the people to encourage others to take the vaccine.

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People don't easily trust the medical system. You have to do serious engagement with communities and training.

There is a lot of misinformation and misconception about the vaccine. People are afraid and are confused about vaccines.

I have been to almost every corner of my local district. I'm well-known in the community. People have trust and confidence in what I say.

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It takes a whole day to convince someone that a vaccine can be beneficial for them.

I wasn't fortunate to be vaccinated against Ebola.

But I can share experiences of my past, being a victim of Ebola, how to be patient, what being in quarantine means.

In the past, health professionals were inconsistent in giving out health information. I rely on giving information that is concrete and practical.

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You use a layman to educate a layman. Let's use our network of Ebola survivors; let's use our people who are residents of these communities.

People who have experience of similar epidemics are in a better position to share that experience.

You cannot tell a story if you don't understand it.

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We have to explain the importance of taking the vaccine, how having a vaccine can help mitigate the spread and infection rate.

We need to explain the advantages the vaccine can bring to society and the economy.

We are learning about the outcome of vaccine trials in big companies in the world. We don't have an idea when there will be vaccine trials in any of our communities.

The fear in Sierra Leone about the COVID vaccine is who will have it. Will it be expensive? Will people be able to afford it or will only the rich get it?"

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)