by Melanie Mayhew, Communications Officer
Monrovia, March 10, 2015—In a few weeks’ time, she watched it take 14 lives, before she knew its name.
By the time she learned its name, her sisters, brother, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, aunt, and other relatives had bled to death.
Three generations gone with one strain. And then it came for her.
Mouth parched, eyes reddened with blood, vomiting and diarrhea, blistering confusion and “fire in [her] heart,” she said.
But Lina Saah, a 39-year-old single mother living in Monrovia, Liberia, would beat the disease after being carried through the streets to an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU). She would spend 15 days there and then be discharged on October 7, hobbling home with a limp that now is a constant reminder of the toll Ebola took on her life and the ones she loved most.
Her “graduation” from the ETU came with a certificate confirming that she was Ebola-free, granting her access to a club that five months ago, she never envisioned joining.
Lina is one of 1,534 registered survivors of Ebola in Liberia as of March 3—although the Ministry of Health says there are likely closer to 2,000 survivors of the disease, which as of March 5, had killed 4,162 people in Liberia. There are signs that Ebola could be snuffed out in the country: The last confirmed Ebola patient was released from an ETU on March 5. If Liberia has no new cases for 42 days, it will be declared Ebola-free.
Beatrice Yardolo, 58, of Montserrado County, Liberia, is that Ebola survivor. She and her husband, Steve, 61, lost three children to Ebola. While Beatrice was in the ETU, Steve and others who shared their house were quarantined after Beatrice was taken for treatment on Feb. 19.
“Even your friends are afraid to come around you. It's difficult," Steve said of the stigma of being associated, but not infected, with Ebola.
That stigma is all too familiar to Lina.
Before Ebola, Lina was a mother of four. Now, she’s a mother of six, after taking in her late sisters’ children.
Before Ebola, she leased an apartment where she made a home. Now, because of the stigma of Ebola—even though Lina is cured and has antibodies that make it impossible for her to contract Ebola again—Lina said that her landlady was denying her access to water for drinking and laundry, and was trying to evict her from the property. If she is forced out, she will join 150 other Ebola survivors who have lost their homes in Liberia as a result of Ebola, according to the Ministry of Health.
Before Ebola, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Lina went to the University of Liberia to study sociology, with the dream of becoming a social worker by her 40th birthday. The other days of the week, she sold small things on the roadside to support her children and finance her college tuition.
Now, she has put her social work dream on hold, in too much physical and emotional pain to work. She has no money to send her children and nieces to school. She relies on the World Food Programme and her church to feed her family.
“We don’t have anything,” she said.
Lina’s new dream is for her kids to return to school, and to own a home that no one can take from her.
“I will be happy when my children are in school, and when I have a place to live,” she said, as she wiped tears from her eyes. Even with the tears wiped away, Lina’s vision is blurry -- another Ebola calling card.
Getting to Zero
The government of Liberia, with the support of partners like the World Bank Group, is balancing the need to protect and invest in survivors like Lina, with a commitment to remain at zero new infections, while rebuilding the essential health services that were devastated when Ebola torpedoed through the country.
Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two countries most deeply affected by Ebola, continue to face challenges to get to zero, while continuing to work toward providing essential health services once again, and being better prepared for future public health threats.
The World Bank Group has provided $518 million in support from IDA, the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries, to help the three most affected countries get to and stay at zero new infections, and recover and rebuild from the crisis. This includes delivering treatment and care, deploying health workers, tracing contacts, delivering food to quarantined people and helping to reopen schools and support recovery, among other activities.