By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC
As a group of people descends the stairs into the courtyard of the Red Cross Society of Guinea in Conakry, one man falls behind, helped painstakingly down each step by his wife. Michel Camara’s gait is slow and measured, his eyes half shut, and he seems much older than his 48 years. He knows he is lucky to be alive and that he has come a long way in the last two months. “A very long way,” he says smiling.
In March, Michel, an ambulance driver with the Red Cross Society of Guinea, contracted the Ebola virus in Forecariah, and was taken to the Ebola treatment centre for health workers in Conakry. His wife and four children feared they had lost him forever.
He spent 21 days fighting the virus and the associated symptoms of high fever, headaches, body aches, vomiting and diarrhoea. Eventually his survival instinct won out and Michel left the treatment centre with an Ebola discharge certificate, which he shows off proudly to those who have gathered to honour him.
“I fought against the Ebola virus so that I could prove wrong some of my family members who were opposed to this work,” says Michel. The experienced Red Cross volunteer has been with the operation since the beginning, working first as a contact tracer in Gueckedougou, then as an ambulance driver in Macenta, Kissoudougou, and Lola. In January 2015 he was deployed to Forecariah, the new epicenter of the epidemic, transferring Ebola patients to treatment centres.
Today, Michel hobbles as he receives congratulations and thanks from his Red Cross colleagues. He suffered from paralysis during his hospitalization, and it will take some time for him to return to full health.
“Ebola survivors are very weak when they leave the treatment centre,” says Babacar Sanoko, a psychologist with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who has been providing regular psychosocial support to Michel and his family since he became infected. “We contacted his wife and explained that Michel can survive this disease and that he will need her support and the support of his relatives. All our discussions were done in the presence of his wife.”
As part of its commitment to staff and volunteers who have stepped up to perform a risky job when many others refused, the Red Cross is providing people like Michel with survivor kits. Items including a supply of cooking oil, rice and potatoes, are all piled into the car that has been arranged to drive him the 700 kilometres home to Macenta. “It’s economic support which will help reinforce his nutritional status, in addition to the psychosocial support he will continue to receive at home,” explains Babacar.
Today, although physically exhausted, Michel promises to continue the fight against Ebola, this time, through his words, before he resumes work as an ambulance driver.
“I will never give up. Ebola must be defeated,” he says, casting a flirtatious glance at his wife, before the couple hugs and laughs, well on their road to full recovery.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched 16 emergency operations in response to the Ebola outbreak. Totalling more than 126 million Swiss francs, the operations are aimed at reaching 39 million people. In Guinea, an emergency appeal of 28.5 million Swiss francs is currently 92 per cent funded. For more information on Red Cross Ebola operations, visit http://www.ifrcmedia.org/ebola/.