Beating the Odds to Survive Ebola in Liberia

By Sandra Tumwesigye

For fifteen years Morris Sirleaf was happily married to Josephine*, the mother of his five children. Together, they ran a small shop and a farm in Suehn Mecca district’s Georgemore Town. Each week Josephine travelled to Paynesville in Monrovia, to buy goods and restock their shop. In October 2014, Morris’ wife died on her way to Monrovia for treatment. She had been ill for a week.

“She was very good and I had no problems with her,” Morris recounts, “I never knew she had the virus so I took her body and covered her behind the house. I told her parents she had died and then the burial team came and we buried her.”

Five days later Morris fell sick and was transferred to a community care centre for temporary isolation and basic care. He later tested positive for Ebola. Within the same week, eleven others from his home district, including his wife’s relatives also fell ill. “They were sick after the burial but they did not take it seriously. If you come late it is not easy, so nine of them died,” Morris explains.

In early November 2014, IOM took delivery of the Ebola treatment unit (ETU) in Tubmanburg and Morris was transferred to the ETU as one of its first patients. “Once I entered the ETU I had the faith I would get well,” he says. Morris counts his fingers, as he lists the reasons for his faith. He explains, “I was well taken care of. Doctors would visit us constantly and even when it was not time and you called, the doctor would come. We would eat three times daily and also at night. [The Psychosocial team] would say, “Don’t worry because you do, it will be hard to take your medicine and eat.”

With time, Morris’s health improved and he tested negative for Ebola. Months after he was first declared an Ebola survivor and discharged, Morris still smiles at the memory. He says, “I was too happy. Imagine, of the eleven from Suehn Mecca only three survived and I was one of them.”

The Psychosocial Support team at the ETU and a Bomi County Health representative later visited Georgemore Town to prepare the leaders and the community for his return. Morris has since successfully reintegrated into his community and returned to growing rice on his farm. Like the eleven other survivors of the Tubmanburg ETU, he also continues to receive visits from staff for medical checks and psychosocial support.

© Alexandra Ostasiewicz/AmeriCares