Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Like Getting Ebola Wasn't Bad Enough

Kenema, Sierra Leone (Al Jazeera )- Massah Kamara sat patiently with her brother Momoh, her haunted eyes focused somewhere in the middle distance beyond the walls of the post-Ebola clinic.
Three months earlier, doctors gave her the good news - after weeks of fighting the disease, she had finally beaten Ebola. She would live.

Back in her home neighbourhood of Nyandeyama, a quiet suburb of sandy streets and mango trees, she found out 22 members of her family were dead, including her parents. She had no money, so was unable to go back to her tailoring business, and many of her possessions had been burned by terrified neighbours.

Then, just when she thought things couldn't get worse, she began to lose her eyesight.
"My eyes are dark," she said sadly. "Even when the sun is shining, my eyes are dark." Kamara said she was happy to have survived Ebola, but fear and misery were etched onto her face.
Kamara is one of 40 percent of Ebola survivors to have gone on to develop eye problems, according to a recent study carried out by the World Health Organisation and Kenema's District Health Management Team. It has been more than a month since the district saw it's last case of Ebola, and attention is turning to the plight of survivors.
The results of the survey, a copy of which was seen by Al Jazeera, outline a raft of physical, social and psychological problems the survivors are experiencing.
Seventy-nine percent, for example, now suffer from joint pain; 42 percent have problems sleeping, while more than one-third of those surveyed experienced peeling of the skin. Many others reported problems with their reproductive system.
Post-survival effects 
"There is so little written about post-Ebola problems," said Maggie Nanyonga, a WHO consultant working with Ebola survivors in Kenema district. "We don't know if it's the drugs that are causing it, or the disease, or just stress."
In a small room at the government hospital in Kenema, now known simply as "Psychosocial", volunteers busily transcribed forms with survivors' complaints. "Serious backbone pain. Difficulty breathing. Properties burned but not replaced," reads one.

"Ear and joint pains. Poor health with red eyes," reads another. 
 "Tired legs and weakness. Cannot see clearly," reads a third.Health education officer Michael Vandi said the eye problems are of particular concern. "We just weren't expecting this. A lot of them are experiencing it, often combined with headaches," he said.The head of the hospital's eye department, Ernest Challey, said he believes he has found the cause - a condition called Uveitis that occurs when the innermost coating of the eye becomes inflamed.
It is triggered by problems with the immune system, a viral infection, and sometimes trauma, he explained. It leaves patients with dim and blurred vision, and pain when they're in bright light. If left untreated, said Challey, it can lead to blindness.

But the physical symptoms are just a part of the immense challenge many Ebola survivors face. "Sometimes I cry when they tell me their stories," said one nurse after writing down Kamara's details in the post-Ebola clinic, the first of its kind.
And it gets worse, according to the rest of the story: the locals treat survivors like pariahs, having burned their few belongings, and shun them afterwards, so they're left with no place to live and no job, as all the health problems pile on.

There's never been a post-Ebola clinic, because historically, the Ebola Survivors Clubs have usually been able to meet in a phone booth.

But with a few thousand survivors this time out of at least 20,000 victims, medical science is getting a new chapter in Ebola treatment: follow-up prognosis for survivors. And it isn't pretty.

Not least of which because what little assistance is going there is aimed at trying to curb the actual outbreak, not deal with the aftermath.

We never had to do much of that before...


Anonymous said...

This makes me question what will happen to our people here who have gotten ebola. Specifically, the two nurses reported to have had ebola. Will they also experience these health problems? And, will our media even tell us if they do?

Blog Author said...

I wonder if the Ebola survivors will form camps/towns of their own, sort of like people in Nigeria and other places who are accused of witchcraft and run out of town?

Sort of like a leper colony, too.

Kevin R.C. O'Brien said...

Sorry for not commenting before, but, "there is not much written about the problems of ebola survivors," for the simplest of reasons: until this outbreak, ebola survivors were barely more common than rabies survivors, or 30,000-foot fall survivors.

Anonymous said...