After Ebola – A Survivor Builds a Stronger Sierra Leone

Mr Kamara,an Ebola survior working at the IOM managed National training Academy in Freetown. © IOM 2015

By Nicholas Bishop                                                                                                             

Gibril Kamara, 38, is a survivor of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, the region’s worst affected country. Since December 2014 he has taken on a new role as a simulated patient trainer at the IOM managed National Training Academy for Frontline Ebola Practitioners in Freetown. Approximately 300 national and foreign health care workers are trained at the Academy every week by a team of 30 IOM trainers. Mr. Kamara and his fellow survivor’s work is crucial to providing a realistic training experience.

The 10 survivors, which includes Mr. Kamara, are employed as simulated patients going through different stages of the virus with foreign medical teams during practical training courses held inside of a mock Ebola Treatment Unit at the Academy. They also share their personal stories and experiences in the classroom during clinical training sessions.

Mr. Kamara’s experience with Ebola began when his uncle’s wife, a nurse, contracted the disease and died shortly thereafter at her home in Wellington, a town near the capital city of Freetown, in early September. Within two weeks Ebola rapidly spread through his family, claiming the lives of his uncle, his 20-year-old son, 16-year-old daughter, 70-year-old grandmother and three other relatives.

Seven other family members were infected and taken to hospital in late September. Mr. Kamara’s condition worsened and he suffered from nausea, weakness and severe headaches before he walked himself to hospital on September 28.

After 11 days in isolation at McCauley Street Hospital, Mr. Kamara was sent to the Hastings holding center where he spent one month before being discharged on 4 November with a group of 68 other survivors. Treatment during the early stages of the disease no doubt saved his life.

The group was then provided with food rations and other supplies by the wife of Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma before being sent home to their respective communities. Yet, due to the Ebola outbreak the Senegalese construction company where Mr. Kamara worked as a clerk had closed its doors and after the rations ran out he couldn’t provide for his family.

In December he was contacted by a survivor he had met in the holding center and asked if he would be interested in working for IOM at the National Training Academy. Without hesitation Mr. Kamara immediately signed up. Speaking about and sharing experiences with other survivors has been a comfort, an unexpected way to cope in the shadow of so many loved ones lost.

Mr. Kamara’s uncanny resilience has allowed him to overcome devastating losses and the accompanying stigma and isolation to make a life-saving contribution in the fight against Ebola in his homeland. “I feel like I am contributing back to those who have been infected because this training helps the doctors and the nurses who go into the field and try to help sick people. I am working for the good of Sierra Leone so that Ebola will fail.”

When asked about Sierra Leone’s prospects, Mr. Kamara isn’t shy about the difference international involvement has made: “If not for the US, UK and Canada and others like IOM, I think Sierra Leone would be going down to zero but since they’ve come survival rates are getting better and Ebola is coming down.” He also sees the difference community engagement has wrought. “People are very sensitive now, as soon as they get sick they go to hospital right away.” This is slowly becoming a reality as Ebola case numbers across the country have dropped for 3 consecutive weeks.

Mr. Kamara’s involvement at the Academy is a daily inspiration to all those who meet him. He is living proof that even in Sierra Leone’s darkest hour its people will never stop caring for one another. In that there is endless solace and hope for the future.