Via The Guardian: Ebola leaves a painful legacy for survivors in Sierra Leone. Excerpt:
Take a flight of stone steps to the third floor of a narrow building in downtown Freetown and you’ll arrive at a small room with billowing purple curtains, where a group of men and women are chatting over the background noise of television news.
The peaceful atmosphere belies the suffering that has brought them together. Each of them has survived Ebola, which means they bear a double burden of social stigma coupled with painful side-effects. For those who lost loved ones in the epidemic, grief is laced with survivors’ guilt.
The headquarters of the Sierra Leonean Association of Ebola Survivors (Slaes) provides a safe space for those who withstood the disease to relax and spend time together, as well as hold meetings and conferences.
“I started coming … because being together helps heal our trauma. We’ve shared the same experience so their pain is my pain,” says Beatrice Quee, the group’s financial secretary.
Ebola took her husband and two sons, so she no longer has any immediate family to whom she can turn for support. She knows how it feels to be ostracised from her community and suffers daily from joint pains, the most common after-effect of Ebola.
Many other people in the room suffer in very similar ways and are able to swap stories and express empathy.
But the association, set up by survivors for fellow survivors, does more than just provide comfort to those who’ve lived through Ebola, which tore through Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia from December 2013, claiming more than 11,300 lives – including about 4,000 in Sierra Leone – and devastating some of the world’s most fragile economies. Its members also work to put pressure on the government to deliver on the promises it made at the end of the outbreak.
When Sierra Leone was first declared Ebola-free in November last year, President Ernest Bai Koroma addressed the nation, saying: “We remain committed to ongoing work to support survivors. This includes a comprehensive package of support for survivors, including free healthcare and psychosocial support.”
Many survivors feel he has not delivered. Earlier this month they protested outside parliament, accusing the government of not providing free healthcare as promised.
“We have not yet received free medicine, and we don’t want to be forgotten,” says Santigi Bangura, education secretary for Slaes.