Sierra Leone is working hard to get down to zero cases of Ebola. Survivors are playing a key role, helping raise awareness about the disease by going out into communities every day to educate people.
Moa Wharf, an impoverished area of Freetown, was recently a hot spot for the Ebola virus. That's why Ebola survivors like Sulaiman Watfa are key. He and other Ebola survivors are immune to the disease and have been educating Moa Wharf residents about the virus.
At first, it wasn’t easy, he said in his native Krio dialect. “When I went into quarantine homes, they would say, 'No, don’t talk to me,' but then I show them my Ebola survivor certificate and they realize I can help, and they listen to me,” he said.
Watfa lost almost his entire family to Ebola. He contracted it from his father. And although Watfa survived, life hasn’t been easy. He’s faced a lot of stigma. No one will hire him when they hear he is an Ebola survivor.
The work he has been doing, however, seems to make a difference. Moa Wharf has been Ebola-free now for more than 21 days. That number is significant, because that is the virus' incubation time.
UNICEF is one of the nongovernmental organizations supporting the community of Moa Wharf through social mobilization, said Lucy Knight, a communications for development specialist with UNICEF.
“We identified that survivors were going to be very important in this community," she said. "It’s marginalized, it’s a slum, it’s on the coastline of Freetown. The quarantined homes were hard to get to, and there wasn’t always room for security people to be there all the time.”
Fatmata Bangura’s home was one of three quarantined in an area of the community after a man died from Ebola there. Approximately 60 people live in the three homes.
Speaking in Krio, Bangura said she was grateful for the work of Ebola survivors. “They come talk to us, and we really appreciate it,” she said.
And while it’s great news that the community is Ebola-free for now, people still need to be alert, Knight said. Three new Ebola cases were reported in Freetown on Wednesday.
“We are seeing from the Moa Wharf cluster, cases in other wards in Freetown," she said.
Almost 4,000 people have died from the virus in Sierra Leone. Watfa said he would continue volunteering until Sierra Leone was Ebola-free.