This article was originally published by Ebola Deeply.
By Kate Thomas
More than a year after Ebola hit Monrovia’s densely-populated West Point township, Ebola Deeply met survivors and their relatives, asking: what are your greatest concerns now?
Mohammed Kromah, 39, pictured above, lives in a one-room apartment in Kru Beach, West Point; the same room where, in August 2014, seven members of his family fell sick with Ebola. Five of them died, including his wife, Fanta, and their three children.
More than a year later, the room is neat and freshly swept: a peaceful refuge from the clatter of the nearby fishermen’s warehouse. Floral fabrics line the walls, and eight small vases of silk flowers are lined up on the windowsill.
“My wife put the flowers together,” Kromah says. “She was a wonderful woman who sold lappa [Liberian cloth] in the market.”
At the Ebola treatment center (ETU) at the nearby Island Clinic, Kromah’s wife died in the bed next to him.
More than a year later, Kromah has had some medical complications after surviving Ebola, including uveitis – an inflammatory eye infection that can be caused by lingering viral particles. He was treated with steroids at the Partnership for Research on Ebola Virus in Liberia (PREVAIL) survivor clinic at Monrovia’s John F. Kennedy hospital.
“For some time I had headaches, joint pain, and one of my eyes turned red, but I was treated free of charge and I no longer have problems,” he says
Even when his uveitis caused him pain, Kromah’s thoughts were largely focused on the family members he lost. His greatest concerns are now financial.
He had to leave his work selling clothing and shoes because of the stigma of surviving Ebola; these days, he drives a yaba yaba [tuk tuk] for a living, but usually makes no more than $3 each day. He receives survivor benefit packages from several NGOs, but those are due to expire before the end of the year.
Kromah hopes to find love again, but even that is tied to his financial concerns.
“It’s not good to be alone,” he said. “I’d like to get married again, but I don’t have enough money,” he said. “There’s a fine woman across the border in Guinea who calls me every day, but I can’t afford to propose to her and bring her to Monrovia.”
The Ebola survivor certificate that George Kollie holds in his hands is dated Oct. 21, 2014: exactly one year and two days later. The 20-year-old contracted Ebola after caring for his father, a businessman, in their two-room apartment.
“At that time, Ebola was hot,” he says. “We both made it to the ETU and we were afraid. My father didn’t make it but they discharged me.”
“I felt bad,” he adds. “People didn’t want to come around me. I was the only survivor at school, and the other kids would not talk to me. But now they are used to me; we just got used to each other again.”
Kollie was treated for uveitis and joint pain at PREVAIL’s survivor clinic, but he says he doesn’t spend much time worrying about his health.
“By the grace of God, I survived Ebola, and then one week later, I survived a fire that burned down the houses around mine,” he says.
“My biggest concern now is getting through my studies,” he says. “Besides that, I think a lot about my little sister Pauline, who died from Ebola when she was 15. She was cremated, against our cultural beliefs. I feel bad about that. I don’t know what that means for her.”
Kpoto did not contract Ebola, but lost his father, stepmother, two brothers and a sister to Ebola in July and August 2014. Another brother was found drowned on the beach at the height of the outbreak.
“I didn’t get sick to go to the ETU. But with what was happening to my family, I was sick in another way,” he says. “I was in a bad condition. Things were not looking fine for me.”
His greatest concern is his nine-year-old brother who he says went missing in an ETU in August 2014.
“I took him to an ETU run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF),” he says. “When I returned home that day, the government decided to quarantine West Point. During that time, there was no chance that I could go out to see my family at the ETU and there was no information. The doctor took my phone number and said he was going to be in touch with me to tell me how the child was doing. Unfortunately he didn’t do so. When they released West Point from quarantine, I went straight there and tried to find the child. Nobody could locate him. They couldn’t say if the child had expired or not. I went there over and over again and I even wrote to the minister of health but I could not get a response.”
More than a year later, Kpoto thinks often of his brother. He has poured his energy into running a network for Ebola survivors in West Point. The network also coordinates scholarships for children whose parents died during the Ebola outbreak.
“Since this happened, I did not sit home and cry; I began to engage with the community,” he says. “The network is all about bringing together survivors. We have to take responsibility to make sure that the various support they are receiving from NGOs is going to the right place. For every NGO that I know of coming here, I make sure that all the orphans and survivors that are supposed to benefit, that I know of them. In this township, I link all of them. Even if you’ve not got a telephone, I will go around and talk to you. I don’t get paid for it, but I choose to do it. I feel satisfied when I’m doing this.”
Kate Thomas is a contributor to Ebola Deeply.
[Photos by Kate Thomas]