My word against Ebola: Empathy

Publié: 29 avril 2015 16:34 CET

Thomas Zanghellini is a psychosocial support delegate who has been part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) Ebola response in Liberia since November 2014. As part of the #WordsAgainstEbola campaign – a Red Cross initiative to promote knowledge, fight stigma, alleviate fear and overcome complacency through the sharing of positive words, Thomas chooses to share the word ‘empathy’.

When you study the history of disasters or epidemics you will read about the number of people who died, how long it lasted, and what was the cause. What you might also learn is the numbers of survivors and why they survived.

So it is here in Liberia. We have survivors. And we have many of them. Men, women and children who were diagnosed with Ebola, a perceived death sentence. Where people could, they prepared for their death, said goodbye to their families, and hoped for grace and mercy from God. They were lying in the Ebola treatment units (ETU), praying and hoping for recovery one day, and wishing for a fast death the other. And then, patients started to get better. And they continued to improve until they knew that they would survive. But what next?

Survivors suffer from a whole list of post-infection symptoms such as eye weakness, impotence, joint pains, and others. They are stigmatized in the community. Some are not allowed by their families to come back. They had Ebola but are cured. They are victims but also survivors. They are not sick but need care. They are alive but not seen.

What do they need? Empathy to start with. Empathy for their story, their narrative. Empathy for the dramatic changes to their life wrought by Ebola and their ongoing medical needs. Empathy for the loss of their family. Empathy, because even though they survived, they have been cast out.

Survivors are the ones who will provide the perspective of hope in the story of Ebola. They had Ebola, they were in the ETUs, they survived. They need to be heard to elicit empathy from their families, their communities, from the world, so that they can begin along the road of recovery.