"When I fell ill, I knew it was different from previous colds I have had in the past."

Published: 23 March 2015 11:00 CET

Komende Luyama is a community 20 kilometres outside of Kenema town in eastern Sierra Leone. Ebola arrived here at the end of September 2014 when the relative of a local family was brought to the community for treatment after beginning to suffer from stomach pains. It is thought that transmission to other community members occurred primarily when people came to visit her while she was ill, and when her family washed her body after she died. A total of 42 people from the village became infected with Ebola, 13 of whom survived. The entire community was placed under quarantine for three months, and was only released 21 days after the last known case of Ebola. During the quarantine, no one could leave their home and no one could enter or leave the community.

My cousin, Jinna Amara, was the first person to become infected with Ebola in this town. She was married and living in Kailahun, another district, but one day her husband called us to tell us that she was sick. He had tried to cure her but it was proving very difficult. So we decided to contribute money and bring her to our village, her hometown, so that she could see a traditional healer. I went to pick her up by motorbike and sat behind her on the journey. On the third day after my cousin arrived, she passed away. We alerted the government burial team which came to the house and took a swab test. Three days later, the result came back positive.

When I first started to feel ill, I knew it was different from the colds I have had in the past. The Ebola task force personnel were here during this time, as were the military. We were under quarantine and we couldn’t leave our homes. They would check every day how we slept and would question us, so I had to explain that I wasn’t feeling fine. They asked for a vehicle to come and within two hours I went to Kenema General Hospital, where a blood test came back as positive. Anyone who showed symptoms was taken to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Ebola treatment centre in Kenema. I was there at the same time as my mother, but I was so ill that I didn’t realize that she had died during this time.

When I was ready to come back to the community, I was given food and non-food items, but these have now finished. Even though Ebola is gone from our community, we are still not healthy as all we have are small farms in our back gardens. All of our rice crop was damaged, as no one could go to the farms. All of our farming was in vain. We suffer from light headaches and weakness because we don’t have enough food. We need food to be able to go back to work. Also, the surveillance team came around to disinfect homes during the outbreak which means that many people here have had their belongings destroyed. Items like beds, chairs, and cups to drink from.

When I was confirmed as positive with Ebola I had two thoughts. My first thought was that I wouldn’t survive. But then, when I knew I was going to get treatment, that gave me hope. It gave me the hope that I would recover.

Now, there are many orphans in this village [35 according to the local task force officer]. Out of the 42 people who contracted Ebola, only 13 survived. I appeal for the orphans in this community. There are serious food shortages here. A non-governmental organization has given us some supplies, but October is the season where rice pods open and [because of the quarantine] no one was there to scare birds away or put up fencing so that animals would not destroy our crops. There have been some consignments of food during quarantine thanks to our local politicians, but not anymore. We are very concerned about the future.