Skip to main content

You are here

West Africa: MSF closes final Ebola projects for survivors

24 Oct 2016

More than two and a half years after the Ebola outbreak officially began, Médecins Sans Frontières is now closing its last projects in West Africa dedicated to caring for people who survived the disease. 

The Ebola outbreak that swept across West Africa infected more than 28,700 people and killed more than 11,300 men, women and children. Whole families were ripped apart and communities were devastated by the disease, which saw schools close, economies grind to a halt and health systems collapse, leading to even greater loss of life. The shocking human toll of the outbreak was exacerbated by the painfully slow international response. “The suffering caused by the Ebola outbreak was immeasurable,” says Brice De Le Vingne, operations director for Médecins Sans Frontières. “It has left an indelible mark on every staff member who travelled to work in West Africa. For our staff from the region, the impact was even greater – they were living with the daily threat of the disease, while at work they faced the devastating reality of Ebola head on. But for those who were infected with the disease, and for their families, it was nothing short of hell.”

Those who survived Ebola often found the battle was not over – many faced significant medical and mental health problems. However, because there had never before been an outbreak of this magnitude, there was limited understanding of what assistance people would need to pick up the pieces. “As the outbreak subsided, it became apparent that Ebola survivors and their families would need significant support,” says Petra Becker, Médecins Sans Frontières head of mission in Liberia. “The majority of survivors experienced physical disorders such as joint pain and neurological or ophthalmological problems. At the same time, many survivors, as well as their friends, family and caregivers, experienced significant mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, after being confronted so closely with death.”

"Many survivors, as well as their friends, family and caregivers, experienced significant mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, after being confronted so closely with death"

Fight against discrimination and stigma

Ebola survivors and their families also faced stigma when they returned to their communities. Médecins Sans Frontières, together with other organisations and alongside national initiatives, sent teams out into affected communities to spread health messages and to help reduce stigma and discrimination. In Guinea, for example, we reached 18,300 people through group and individual sessions. “Stigma remains a huge issue for those who survived Ebola and for their families, despite awareness and information campaigns during and after the outbreak,” says Jacob Maikere. “The discrimination takes many forms, with people losing their jobs or their partners, or being rejected by their family or community, all of which can have a hugely destabilising impact on their lives.”

Health workers hard hit

Health workers in the three worst affected countries paid a heavy price for responding to the disease, with many losing their lives. Those who survived witnessed countless deaths, and had to live with the fear that they too would be infected in their own communities as Ebola spread. “Health workers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia saved many of their fellow citizens from Ebola,” says Ibrahim Diallo, Médecins Sans Frontières head of mission in Guinea. "But the virus created such fear in the country that many were viewed with suspicion or even discriminated against because of the contact that they had with people who were sick.”

 

Médecins Sans Frontières handing over post-Ebola care

In late-September, Médecins Sans Frontières ended its medical and mental health programmes for survivors in Guinea and Sierra Leone, while in Liberia, post-Ebola activities will finish before the end of the year. Most medical conditions affecting survivors, such as eye and joint problems, have now been treated, and we have arranged for those who need ongoing mental health support to receive continuing care within their national health systems or from other organisations. 

Health workers in the three worst affected countries paid a heavy price for responding to the disease, with many losing their lives. Those who survived witnessed countless deaths, and had to live with the fear that they too would be infected in their own communities as Ebola spread. “Health workers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia saved many of their fellow citizens from Ebola,” says Ibrahim Diallo, Médecins Sans Frontières head of mission in Guinea. "But the virus created such fear in the country that many were viewed with suspicion or even discriminated against because of the contact that they had with people who were sick.”

 

Médecins Sans Frontières handing over post-Ebola care

In late-September, Médecins Sans Frontières ended its medical and mental health programmes for survivors in Guinea and Sierra Leone, while in Liberia, post-Ebola activities will finish before the end of the year. Most medical conditions affecting survivors, such as eye and joint problems, have now been treated, and we have arranged for those who need ongoing mental health support to receive continuing care within their national health systems or from other organisations. 

 

Note: The comments collected will only be used for publishing on this page. The comments section of the website is managed & hosted by a third-party company Disqus, based in USA. Please ensure you agree with their Privacy Policy before using it.