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Sierra Leone Ebola Survivors Want More Help — Fast

Ebola survivors Massah Stevens and Yusif Koroma stand outside the Sierra Leone association of Ebola survivors, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Jan. 6, 2016. (Nina Devries /VOA)

Sierra Leone has been Ebola-free for two months. While the situation has improved in some ways, many Ebola survivors say they are not getting enough help to rebuild their lives.

Ebola survivors discussed their frustrations recently at a meeting of the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors in Freetown, the country’s capital.

Each survivor was entitled to a discharge package after recovery. This was to include a bag of rice, a foam mattress and some cash, equal to about $70.

However, some said they were still waiting for that package. Others said it came very late.

Massah Stevens, a nurse who caught Ebola from a patient while working in a treatment center, said she did not get her discharge package until 10 months after her release. She said she managed because her husband could help out, but not all survivors have that luxury.

“They have lost their parents. They have lost their mother, father,” she said.

The Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender and Children Affairs is responsible for the packages. Tina Davies, who directs Ebola survivor activities within the ministry, admitted that some discharge packages had been delayed. This was because Ebola treatment units did not inform the ministry fast enough that survivors had been discharged, she said.

Davies said most survivors had received their packages by now.

Too little, some say

Still, survivors like Yusif Koroma said the supplies weren't nearly enough compensation for what he had gone through.

“The family is vulnerable. I won’t eat that bag of rice alone; I have to share,” Koroma said.

More help is needed, survivors said — and fast.

Davies said more help would be coming through a specific program for Ebola survivors. Now that the country is Ebola-free, she said, the ministry can focus more on issues of survivors.

The government is looking at a long-term program for survivors that gives them scholarships, skills training and startup kits for businesses.

Davies added that survivors can go to health clinics for continued treatment of medical issues.

Survivors have received psychological counseling as well as their discharge packages, so "it’s not like nothing is happening," she said. "I think it’s that cultural aspect, that people want cash in their hands, but we’re trying to provide services that are sustainable for survivors. You get livelihood skills [and] support them through education, to empower them.”

Davies said she could understand the frustration that arises when things are not moving as quickly as survivors would like, but she insisted that Ebola survivors were a priority for Sierra Leone and that they would not be forgotten.