“I had Ebola and survived.”

Published: 27 May 2014 11:03 CET

Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

Given that he grew up in Guinea, the so-called “water castle of Africa" because of the number of African rivers that have their source here, it seemed pre-determined that Saa Sabas would end up working in the agricultural sector. However, fate decided otherwise. Instead, the 41 year old found himself an employee in the pharmacy of the health centre in the capital of Gueckédou.

It was here, in this health facility, where he contracted Ebola, one of the most deadly viruses known in the world.

Saa Sabas had a sick parent hospitalized at the health centre and volunteered to be at his father’s bedside so other family members wold not have to make the daily trek of tens of kilometres, traversing the trails between their village and the facility.

“I often gave him food and drink, and I cleaned his vomit and sometimes his clothes,” says Saa Sabas. “He had a fever and diarrhoea but I did not know he was suffering from Ebola.”

“Many people got sick and died because they did not know they were dealing with Ebola as its main symptoms such as fever, aches, muscle weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea, are similar to many other viruses,” explains Dr Isabelle Guess, member of the health team deployed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to support the Red Cross Society of Guinea in responding to the Ebola outbreak which has gripped the country for almost two months. “This is the first time Ebola had been detected in Guinea, so the population and the medical staff did not know the disease.”

Ebola is not airborne and can only be transmitted through direct contact with the blood or body secretions from an infected or deceased person. This means that people who get up close are at higher risk of infection.

Because of his close contact with an infected person, and because he was not wearing personal protection equipment like gloves, masks and goggles, Saa Sabas eventually caught the Ebola virus.

“I almost died,” he says, his voice quivering. “I had excruciating pain and repetitive and heavy diarrhoea. Within a few hours, I started to lost weight.”

He was transferred quickly to the Ebola treatment centre set up in Guéckédou. The early symptomatic treatment he received, combined with his fighting spirit to stay alive, paid off.

“I led a struggle against death and it finally gave up,” he says with a touch of humour. He recovered and is one of the first Ebola patients to be cleared and discharged from the health centre in Guéckédou.

When he returned home, instead of being welcomed, Saa Sabas was stigmatized. His neighbours thought he was still contagious. “People avoided me even when I showed them my certificate of discharge. But now, thanks to the sensitization and information provided by the Red Cross, they have accepted me,” explains Saa Sabas who now carries the nickname of anti-Ebola in his community.

With a team of volunteers from the Red Cross Society of Guinea, Saa Sabas is now visiting communities, raising awareness of how to prevent the spread of the disease, to allay some of the fear and rumours, as well as to combat the ignorance about this dangerous disease.

“I am one of them and I can talk to them in a language they understand. Who else is better placed than me to tell them about Ebola?” he asks. “Ebola exists and will continue to decimate members of my community if we don’t act urgently. Many people have already died, that is why I participate in the sensitization activities. I urge people to go the isolation and treatment centres if they experience the earliest symptoms of the disease, to increase their chance of being cured and surviving.”

IFRC has launched emergency operations in six West African countries which have been affected by the Ebola virus disease outbreak (Guinea, Liberia), or are at risk of being affected (Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone). These operations are expected to reach up to 10 million people. For more information on the various emergency operations, visit www.ifrc.org/africa.