By Mirabelle Enaka Kima, IFRC
In her forties, Maimaïssatou Toure is a mother of six and an Ebola survivor from Forécariah Prefecture, Guinea. Known for her dynamism and courage, this woman devoted one year of her life to caring for children whose parents were infected by Ebola and admitted to the treatment centre in Forécariah.
Her story resembles that of many others who have been infected by the Ebola virus disease after contact with a close relative. Unlike some of her family members who were infected but did not survive, including her son, Maimaïssatou Toure beat Ebola after receiving care at the Conakry Donka-based Ebola treatment centre.
“After two weeks of treatment, I tested negative for Ebola and was authorized to go back home to my children and husband. As I expected, people in my neighbourhood avoided any contact with me. They were curious but no one dared coming close to me. What I went through opened my mind and I understood that Ebola patients need support.’’
Contacted by the Forecariah treatment centre to support awareness and counselling for infected patients, Maimaïssatou found a new calling. “I had to comfort the sick and take care of their young kids. As a person who recovered from Ebola, I knew the suffering they were going through and the fear they had developed. Since I could not find any words to encourage them, all I did was make sure I took care of their children as if they were mine.”
“Maimaïssatou was brave. She became an advisor for the sick and their families,” said Soriba Camara, President of the Association of Ebola Survivors in Forécariah Prefecture. “She did not hesitate to share with them her own experience, and found the right words to inspire hope and courage. She also stressed the importance of maintaining proper hygiene and to abstain from intimate relations after being discharged from the treatment centre.”
Survivors support group
Today, Mamaïssatou is an active member of the Forécariah Association for Ebola Survivors, a group currently made up of 132 survivors. “It is an exchange and solidarity platform that we created to fight against stigmatization and discrimination that we are subjected to every day,” says Camara, also an Ebola survivor. “After recovering from Ebola, the most outstanding challenge is to be able to get back to normal life. Many of us have lost our jobs and are rejected by our families. It is a trial we must overcome together, through mutual support.”
Being able to find work again is their main concern.
As with other members of the Association, Maimaïssatou’s dream is to be employed and gain the acceptance of her community. She is a hairdresser by trade but had to close her shop because of the stigma; customers were staying away. Now that people are starting to accept her again, she would love nothing more than to reopen but lacks the funds to do so. “I spend entire days idle, whereas before Ebola I always was a willing and dynamic person. I would like to be respected for my skills and be able to live without being concerned by people’s perceptions.”
In Guinea today, there are approximately 1,260 Ebola survivors, most of whom live in Lower Guinea and the Forest region. Throughout the emergency, the Red Cross Society of Guinea has been providing psychosocial support to survivors and their families to help mitigate the effects of exclusion and the stigma many of them experienced. This support is being continued as families strive to recover from the outbreak.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in partnership with the Swedish Red Cross, is working on additional support to the Red Cross Society of Guinea through psychosocial assistance programmes for both hard hit communities and Red Cross volunteers.
The IFRC is also preparing to sign an agreement with the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) aimed at increasing the resilience of Ebola-affected communities.
“The objective of this project is to give access to basic social services and to facilitate the socio-economic reintegration of Ebola survivors and Red Cross volunteers who were also stigmatized after being part of the response,” explains Oscar Llorente Pelayo, Operations Coordinator for the IFRC in Guinea. “Women and young people are particularly vulnerable groups and are found to most economically and psychosocially affected by the outbreak. This programme’s approach will be oriented towards specific protection of these groups.”