The story of Musu Dolo – a mother of five, now widowed by Ebola

Publié: 8 juillet 2014 15:28 CET

By Oniel Bestman, Liberia National Red Cross Society, and Ademola Alao, IFRC

“When my husband tested positive for the Ebola virus, my children and I were isolated by our community and our neighbours. We were denied access to contact and assistance from our own family and social workers. My children were prohibited from attending school and I found it difficult to support my family during those trying days,” says Musu Dolo (not her real name), who lives in Foya district in Liberia.

Her husband later died from the highly contagious disease. He was one of the health care workers at a hospital which received an Ebola patient from Guinea. He was also the breadwinner for his family of four sons and a daughter.

When her husband’s case was confirmed, the entire family was put under surveillance at home for 21 days, the incubation period for Ebola. During this time, the community knew very little about the disease as it was the first time it had surfaced in Liberia. There were a lot of misunderstandings and misperceptions about the outbreak.

Because the family had direct contact with an infected person, they were on a priority list for a visit from a psychosocial support counsellor with the Liberia National Red Cross Society. During the first visit, the Red Cross team provided the family with a survival kit which included food and non-food items, as well as psychological first aid to help them cope with being ostracized from the community.

“It was indeed a very difficult period for Musu Dolo and her children who were mourning the loss of their husband and father, and facing the future with uncertainty. She told us that sometimes people at the shops refused to accept her money for fear of contracting Ebola,” explains one of the trained Red Cross volunteers.

The National Society has deployed 345 trained volunteers to communities at-risk of Ebola, providing them with factual information about the disease and how they can protect themselves. Volunteers also focus on enhancing community knowledge in prevention and hygiene promotion in order to contribute to stopping the social stigmatization of people like Musu Dolo who are directly affected by Ebola.

After several visits by the Red Cross psychosocial support team, the family was gradually becoming open to more interactive sessions. “My sleeping has improved and I am now thinking of how to organize a fitting memorial service for my late husband,” says Musu Dolo. Since then, she has been reintegrated into the community and – with community support – was able to hold that memorial service which was also attended by Red Cross volunteers.

Musu Dolo’s experience is one of many cases in an environment where cases of denial and the challenges of traditional beliefs and customs continue to impede the fight against the epidemic. Government authorities have solicited more support from the Liberia National Red Cross Society to scale up awareness across the country.

The Liberia National Red Cross Society and its partners, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), have intensified their response mainly in social mobilization, contact tracing and psychosocial counselling. The Liberia National Red Cross Society has also provided survivor kits to affected populations, and personal protective equipment to local health authorities.

In late April, IFRC launched an emergency appeal to support the society in responding to the Ebola virus disease outbreak. Support focuses on mobilizing, training and deploying volunteers to raise awareness on how to prevent the spread of the disease, tracing of cases and referral to health facilities, and provision of personal protective equipment kits, including body sheets to county health authorities. The appeal is currently 64 per cent covered.