Helping children to overcome Ebola stigma
UNICEF is working with Masaka District and Masaka Regional Referral Hospital to provide child protection and mental health psychosocial support services to people suspected of Ebola, their families, and the affected communities
One evening when I got some fever, I went to a clinic near home and was given some tablets for treatment. But not long after at around 9 p.m., I started nose bleeding, a thing that had never happened to me. Though the bleeding reduced at 1 a.m., I had developed a very high fever and being only 13 years old, all this time my mum was by my side, very worried. In the morning she took me back to the clinic and new medicine was administered but I continued to bleed through the ears and nose.
Amidst the heavy rains that morning, we were advised to go to a bigger hospital. I had bled all night in my bedsheets and as soon as we returned home, my mother started to wash them in preparation for hospital. No sooner had she dipped the sheets in water, than an ambulance arrived at our doorstep.
"Rumour that I had Ebola spread so fast among community members like wildfire. I learnt that many people in different groups came to our place hurling unkind words to my mother saying, “you have Ebola, we are not coming to eat at your restaurant nor buy things from your shop”. Moreover, the day I was admitted to hospital was the same day I was supposed to pick my end term report, but the rumour reached school before mum could and she was sent a message not to dare go there for the report, as they were still studying the situation. Some people even started throwing stones at my mother."
"Trembling and scared, she ran into the bush to hide, leaving her shop open until she returned around 8 p.m. when it was dark, closed the door and slept. No one touched a thing in the shop the whole time she was in hiding. So, our property being safe only meant that we were complete outcasts in the community. I got to the hospital unconscious, was put on drip and when I woke up the first thing I asked was “where is my mother?” The health workers lied to me that she was at the gate, but days and nights went by and I never saw her.
Back home, as I learnt later, the silence at my mom’s shop was so loud that her yellow bananas on the shelf started rotting, and she didn’t have any money, yet she needed to find me. That is when the whistle blower nurse came and told her that I had been taken to the referral hospital in Masaka. Mum ran to one of her close friends in a different village from whom she managed to secure 100,000 Shillings. She moved to another village and got another friend whom she requested to escort her to the referral hospital where I was admitted. They came to hospital but because they didn’t know where I was isolated, after checking all the accessible wards in vain, she and her friend returned to the village.
On a Thursday, while in isolation, a nurse called me to the compound to receive visitors from the district social welfare office, hospital mental health department and UNICEF who accessed me through the green area. They asked me if there was anything they could do to make my isolation time mind calming. Without hesitation and with tears in my eyes, I requested to talk to my mother. I read out mum’s number to the UNICEF staff, who quickly let me talk to mum in loud mode while keeping a safe distance.
I felt so good talking to mum at last!
My mother immediately set off once again to the hospital, this time with a contact number for directions to the isolation. The visitors also mobilized pads and knickers which they sent to me immediately through the nurse on duty and I was so happy for all the support. May God bless them. It is so lonely in the isolation center, you have no one to talk to or play with because everyone is in their cubicle.
Mum arrived an hour later, and I was allowed to see her and talk to her from a safe distance. She went back home and the next day when my Ebola test results came back negative, the nurse called my mother to pick me, and I was discharged with a certificate indicating negative results that I showed to the chairperson to confirm I was never suffering from Ebola but was just a suspect. Thanks to the doctors for treating all my signs so well.
When the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) team called for direction to visit our home, we were thrilled because they cared and had accepted us. The community attitude towards us has slowly changed compared to a week after my return when they mocked me as “ow’Ebola” (meaning “the one with Ebola”).
Although when I walk around some still give me Ebola names just like they do to my mum, with comforting words from the MHPSS team, we now understand that it’s a matter of time and it shall be behind.
"UNICEF worked with Masaka District and Masaka Regional Referral Hospital to provide child protection and mental health psychosocial support services to people suspected of Ebola, their families, and the affected communities. Complementary effort/support was sought through referrals to local non-governmental organizations regarding material needs for children and mothers in isolation to concretize and sustain mental health wellbeing results. Child protection and mental health issues in public health emergencies are in most cases not given the attention desired yet in the process of saving lives, families are being separated, children face violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. By the close of 2022, 5 children had been connected to family-based care, 67 people facing stigma comprising of 37 parent caregivers and 7 children and 23 being youth in greater Masaka area had been supported under the programme. MHPSS pillar in conjunction with Risk Communication and Community Engagement, also reached 1055 (456F, 599M) including Buganda cultural leaders, VHTs and other community members with child protection and mental health information,"