Ebola: Twelve months through the eyes of twelve people

20 Mar 2015
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This week marks a year since the Ebola epidemic began in Guinea. Since the outbreak began, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives to the disease.

Here, we meet people who have survived under our care and we meet people who have helped others to recover. For some, they are both.

1 Hilde De Clerck | First expert on the scene


Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) doctor Hilde De Clerck was one of the first experts on the scene after Ebola broke out in Guinea. With experience containing six previous Ebola outbreaks in Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, on her arrival in Guéckédou, Dr Hilde and her team immediately set up the most high priority activities.

These included caring for the sick in Guéckédou hospital, training local health staff on how to protect themselves, raising awareness of the virus amongst the community, conducting safe burials, and setting up an ambulance system to transport patients with suspected Ebola to a place where they could be isolated and receive care.

2 Beindu Fatormam | A symbolic hug


Health promoter Mari Nythun Sorlien hugs Ebola survivor Beindu Fatorma as she is reunited with her husband and community.

In places where 'no body contact' is the rule, a simple hug takes on special significance – a symbolic gesture which shows that an Ebola survivor is no longer infectious.

3 Mamadee | The boy who tricked Ebola


In MSF’s Ebola management centre in Foya, Liberia, a transistor radio plays loud Azonto music from Ghana. The patients listen weakly from their beds – except for one.

Eleven-year-old Mamadee performs an Azonto dance to an admiring crowd. It is hard to believe that Mamadee has Ebola.


4 Bentu Sandy | The strength of local staff


Bentu Sandy contracted Ebola and survived. After being discharged from MSF’s centre in Bo, Sierra Leone, she was hired by MSF as a mental health counsellor to provide support to the patients in the high-risk zone.

“I was infected, then I was treated by MSF, so I know exactly how the patients feel,” she says. 

5 Kollie James | The 1,000th survivor


Kollie James was the 1,000th survivor to be discharged from an MSF Ebola management centre in West Africa. His father, Alexander, was overjoyed that his son had survived the disease, but sad about all those who had not been so lucky.

“This is a great thing,” says Alexander, “but I wonder how many more people we have lost. How many have not survived?

"Of course I am so happy to have Kollie still, but it’s hard not to think of all those who are no longer with us.”


6 Joanne Liu | A desperate call for help


The desperately slow international response will be remembered as one of the key issues of the Ebola epidemic.

In September 2014, MSF international president Dr Joanne Liu made this unprecedented appeal to UN member states: “To curb the epidemic, it is imperative that states immediately deploy civilian and military assets with expertise in biohazard containment.

"I call upon you to dispatch your disaster response teams, backed by the full weight of your logistical capabilities.”


7 Jackson K P Naimah | Describing the horror in Monrovia


MSF team leader Jackson K P Naimah, from Liberia, addressed the UN Security Council via video-conference in September with an urgent plea for more resources to fight the outbreak.

“Right now, as I speak, people are sitting at the gates of our centres literally begging for their lives. They rightly feel alone, neglected, denied – left to die a horrible, undignified death.

"We are failing the sick because there is not enough help on the ground.”


8 B Sunday Williams | Collecting bodies


B Sunday Williams worked for MSF in Monrovia as a chlorine sprayer, one of a team whose job it was to collect the victims of Ebola – both living and dead – from the community.

The job was challenging, and personally risky, yet the team’s vital work often went unremarked.

“When I heard about Ebola, I was frightened – I was afraid to pick up a body,” he said. “But now I’m no longer afraid, I feel protected.”


9 Javid Abdelmoneim | From Europe to West Africa


Before this epidemic, MSF had just 40 staff experienced in dealing with Ebola. With too few experts available, some returned to the region several times. MSF struggled to find enough staff to send to the region.

“All summer I’d been procrastinating about going to West Africa,” says London-based doctor Javid Abdelmoneim. “Then I got an email from MSF saying, ‘we’re desperate’ – something that had never happened before.”

Dr Javid joined the MSF team in Kailahun, one of the Ebola hotspots in Sierra Leone.


10 Fanta and Ibrahim | The Ebola survivors’ association


Fanta Oulen Camara and Ibrahim Savane were among the first Ebola survivors to be discharged from MSF’s centre in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

Both had lost family members and friends to Ebola and, after leaving the centre, were victims of discrimination and stigma - even within their own families.

“It was only amongst ourselves, when meeting other Ebola survivors, that we could feel totally comfortable, that we could have fun and enjoy life again,” says Fanta.

“That’s when we decided to create an association of Ebola survivors so that we could have a place where we felt accepted.”

The association now has more than 200 members, who also engage in efforts to reduce stigma and promote acceptance of Ebola survivors within their communities.

Fanta and Ibrahim now both work for MSF – Fanta giving psychosocial support to patients and Ibrahim as leader of the health promotion team.

11 Bangura Santos | Talking to local people


Bangura Santos is a translator who caught Ebola, was admitted to MSF’s centre in Kailahun, and recovered.

Bangura went on to join MSF’s alert team, where his main job was to talk to local people about Ebola and persuade them to react immediately if anyone showed symptoms.

“Normally, when I go to the community and say that I’m an Ebola survivor, people take my advice,” he says.

12 Adama Kargbo | Ebola is not a death sentence for pregnant women


Adama Kargbo was the first patient admitted to MSF’s Ebola management centre in Kissy, Sierra Leone, in January 2015.

She was pregnant and lost her baby but, against all the odds, she survived the disease.  “When I get better, I want to go to university, study accounting and work in a bank,” said Adama.

MSF opened a maternity unit within its centre where pregnant women with Ebola could receive specialised care.