'Loved Ones Turn Against Them': Ebola Survivors in West Africa Face Brutal Stigma

Amid the dearth of good news surrounding the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa, one headline worth cheering about has finally surfaced: the news that Christian doctor Kent Brantly, currently being treated in Atlanta, Georgia for the disease, may be out of the hospital in the near future.

However, as news outlets focus on the potential of Dr. Brantly restarting a normal life, those like him in West Africa, who have survived the disease, face complete social ostracism upon returning to their families, villages, and work environments.

Dr. Brantly is one of two Americans, along with fellow Samaritan’s Purse worker Nancy Writebol, to have contracted Ebola while in Africa. Both were flown home and are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Samaritan’s Purse released a very positive statement regarding Dr. Brantly’s health this week, suggesting that he is nearing a stage where he does not need to be under hospital surveillance. “Dr. Kent Brantly is doing very well and hopes to be released sometime in the near future,” said the statement, though it did not specify how much time is left for Dr. Brantly to remain in treatment.

Dr. Brantly’s improvement is particularly stirring given that he refused the experimental Ebola medication ZMapp, in order for Writebol to have the first dose. He later received a dose of the drug upon it being available.

Should he survive and leave the hospital, Dr. Brantly will likely receive a hero’s welcome at home and at Samaritan’s Purse, after treating dozens of patients in West Africa. And despite increased fears of a potential contagion in America, will be able to pursue a healthy life after the trial. For those who survive in West Africa, however, fears of continuing to carry the disease follow them throughout their lives.

“Many of our neighbors won’t come to our house now… My friends don’t visit, thinking that if they come near our house, they’ll catch the virus,” Fudia Sesay, a 49-year-old Ebola survivor in Sierra Leone, tells Bloomberg News. Sesay notes that she has yet to return to work– not for health-related reasons, but because she fears what her coworkers and bosses would say upon seeing her. The few friends who do speak to her, she says, do so because they do not believe Ebola exists. Kadiatou Fanta, a 26-year-old survivor from Guinea, tells the Associated Press that she lost her boyfriend, and professors ask for her to be removed from their medical school classrooms.

“Ebola has ruined my life even though I am cured… no one wants to spend a minute in my company for fear of being contaminated,” she tells the AP.

While these are but two examples, they highlight the horrors inherent in the Ebola outbreak even in the best of scenarios where people survive. While Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and to a lesser extent Nigeria must endure the hardships of safely putting bodies to rest, keeping medical teams safe, and stopping the spread of the virus, reintegrating Ebola survivors into their communities will be a major long-term challenge that will haunt these nations years after the outbreak subsides.