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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Survivors fighting against Ebola in Sierra Leone

By Jo Dunlop

Siblings Jusif and Bilikisu Koroma have survived Ebola. Now back in the community, they have joined other survivors in the care centres and hospitals in which the battle against the virus is being fought.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 18 December 2014 – Jusif Koroma and his sister Bilikisu survived Ebola. Seventeen of their relatives, including their father, four brothers and seven sisters, have succumbed to the illness.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2014/Dunlop
Nurse Bilikisu Koroma at Connaught Hospital, in Freetown, Sierra Leone

The siblings contracted Ebola at home, before they were admitted to the isolation unit at Connaught Hospital in Freetown. They were released about two weeks later, two days apart.

“I felt like I was born again,” Jusif recalls. “When you have the virus, death is close to you. I felt like a new man in the world the day I left.”

Two months later, the Koroma siblings have made significant strides in rebuilding their lives. They both feel healthy again and say that Ebola has left no physical trace.

Jusif, who is 26, and Bilikisu, 23, are not, however, leaving Ebola in the past. They have begun to perform vital work to support families affected by Ebola in their community.

Jusif: “I understand”

By supporting the government, UNICEF is playing a key part in exploring how Ebola survivors can play in a role in the fight against the disease. The region’s first conference for survivors was held in Kenema in October, and additional conferences are being planned.

In the meantime, survivors like Jusif and Bilikisu are already working in front line health facilities, social mobilization and caring for children.

Jusif has just started his first paid job. He is a social worker with Cap Anamur, a German NGO that supports children affected by Ebola. He works at Pikin Paddy, an interim care centre (ICC) that Cap Anamur manages for children orphaned by Ebola.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2014/Dunlop
Jusif (centre) with children at Pikin Paddy, an interim care centre for children orphaned by Ebola

“My father was the breadwinner of our family,” says Jusif. “He took care of all of us. When he died with so many other family members, I had to be the one to take responsibility. Now, I have a secure job.

“It is my pleasure to work here,” he adds. “I am an Ebola survivor, myself, so I know how these children feel. I have sympathy for them, and I understand what they are going through.”

At Pikin Paddy, Jusif cares for up to 20 children, providing them with a routine of regular meals, games, lessons and psychosocial support. “These children need care and attention. We play with them, we check their mood and we feed them well,” he says.

In the coming weeks, his role will be expanded when he moves to Cap Anamur’s new observational interim care centre (OICC). The children in this centre will have potentially been exposed to Ebola through contact with family members or while they were in an isolation ward, before they tested negative. At the OICC, the children will be cared for and their temperatures and general health monitored for the 21-day incubation period, after which they can be reintegrated with their families. At least 14 OICCs are being set up across the country, 10 of which are funded by UNICEF through partners.

Bilikisu: “I know what these patients see”

Bilikisu is supporting the fight against Ebola in the same unit in Connaught Hospital in which she, herself, battled the disease. She works as a nurse, caring for people who have suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola. She’ll spend up to four hours in protective clothing, providing patients with medicine, food and care. Each day, at least five patients die. Her role includes the high-risk tasks of cleaning corpses and shifting bodies.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2014/Dunlop
Jusif and Bilikisu Koroma

“I know what these patients see and what goes through their minds, because this happened to me,” she says. “The sickness is one thing, [but] it’s the mental strain which is also very hard.

“It was the words of my brother and the doctors and nurses that brought me back and helped me survive this,” she adds.

Before she took ill, Bilikisu had worked as a nurse at Connaught Hospital. Returning seemed the right thing to do. “I have the skills and the immunity to help save lives. I am the best person to be doing this job.

“I like being a nurse. I like the team I work with here. We are like family, and we support each other,” she adds.

Bilikisu sees herself as an advocate for survivors and health care workers and has participated in workshops to educate nurses on safe practices and to build awareness around issues of stigma. “I have a responsibility to teach people about this disease. I want this disease to end in our country.”

With the government, UNICEF co-leads the country’s Ebola response pillar, covering child protection, psychosocial support and gender.



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