Via The New Yorker, Luke Mogelson writes a must-read article about Liberia: When the Fever Breaks. Excerpt:
According to the W.H.O., an outbreak is not over until no new cases have occurred during the length of time that is twice the incubation period of the virus—forty-two days for Ebola. No one knows when that will happen in West Africa. Even when it does, the threat will persist. “The virus is not going to go away,” Montgomery, the C.D.C. team leader in Liberia, told me. “We will stop this outbreak. Person-to-person transmission will stop. But the reservoir is still out there.”
The trauma done to West African society will last for years. Thousands of survivors are already struggling to return to communities that have been inundated with public-awareness campaigns geared toward inculcating a fear of Ebola, and no one knows how many orphans the virus has left behind. When Omu Fahnbulleh returned to Robertsport, to discover that in her absence most of her family had died, people followed her down the street, taunting her. Her husband was a carpenter; now that he is gone, she is unsure how she will support her children.
“I got no one to help me,” she told me when I met her. “I’m not getting nothing. I’m not doing nothing.”
Communities, employers, friends, sometimes even relatives shun survivors. In Tonkolili, I accompanied a social worker who was escorting a teen-age survivor back to her village. The girl’s neighbors and family were clearly uncomfortable, and one woman asked whether it was safe to touch her. “She is free,” the social worker said. “You are vulnerable; I am vulnerable. But she is free.”
In Monrovia, I heard several stories of survivors returning home to find that their apartments had been leased to other tenants. Even when that didn’t happen, many of their belongings had been incinerated. The Liberian government issues “survivor kits,” which include bedding, rice, and basic cookware, but I met many survivors who said they never got them.
In Sierra Leone, it was left to the E.T.U.s to send something home with discharged patients. The teen-age girl in Tonkolili had been given a bucket containing two plastic cups, two plastic bowls, a mosquito net, a sleeping mat, a thin blanket, a toothbrush and toothpaste, three bars of soap, a towel, sanitary napkins, used T-shirts, a baby’s flip-flops, infant-size underwear, and a baby’s corduroy trousers.
Last summer, the Liberian Ministry of Health asked Korlia Bonarwolo, a physician’s assistant in his mid-twenties, to launch a new department that would help survivors reintegrate into society. When I met Bonarwolo, in Monrovia, he had just left the government, which he found cynical and ineffective, to form his own association.
Bonarwolo described Liberia’s reintegration initiatives as a public-relations exercise put on for the benefit of donors. “They were using us,” he told me. He said that the government had mostly arranged for him to appear at organized events, and did not provide real resources to assist survivors.
Bonarwolo contracted Ebola in late June, while caring for one of his colleagues at Redemption Hospital, in Monrovia. He was at home when he first recognized that he was ill. No ambulance was available at Redemption and after three days a friend took him to John F. Kennedy Medical Center, another treatment unit in the city. He was put on a gurney, in a fenced-off area outdoors, in the rain.
Two other patients were isolated alongside Bonarwolo, one of whom suffered frequent fits of rage. “One time, she dragged me to the floor and jumped on my back,” Bonarwolo said. “She beat me until she got tired. It was just by the grace of God she didn’t kill me.”
Bonarwolo was in the E.T.U. for three weeks. After his discharge, he contracted pneumonia and became anemic. Still, the more survivors he met, the luckier he felt. Many had nowhere to live and could barely feed themselves. The girl who had abused him in the E.T.U. had survived but remained unstable. Her family had given up on her, and she was living in a church.