It is no joke that the Ebola virus disease doesn’t only kill, but it also discriminates, traumatizes, creates abandonment and to some extent, makes people selfish and heartless to relatives, love ones or friends infected by the virus. The disease, no doubt, has the tendency of making people infected outcasts in society, due to its deadly and stigmatic posture owing to the fear earlier created that “when you catch it, you will die no matter what happens.” This suggests (and in reality) that If an individual gets infected, the first thing that runs to his or her mind is death- no matter how strong he or she is.
The next thing it creates is neglect- people who once came close become afraid to associate or affiliate with you when infected for fear of contracting the virus. In our country, Liberia, if a family loses one of its members- for example, father or mother, the rest of the family members are suppose to be shown love and care. People console others that are bereaved by closely associating or affiliating with them in some manner and form- wiping their tears, hugging them and so forth, so that they don’t feel abandoned, but loved and cared-for.
But Ebola says no to all of these consolations, urging relatives, friends and loved ones to be very careful with the one whose mother or father may have died of Ebola. He or she is also perceived as an infected person- and that’s the simple truth about us in Liberia since the Ebola outbreak early this year. It’s no joke; Ebola creates suspicion and enemies among people because if a person loses his or her relative to the virus, his or her friends wouldn’t want to come around to sympathized, believing and fearing that the entire family has the disease…, while the bereaved obviously feels discriminated and abandoned.
To say the simple truth with all being said in the foregoing, I am the latest victim of such stigmatization. I was never infected with the virus, instead relatives of mine were died of the deadly Ebola disease. I lost two sisters and a nephew in September 2014 to the disease. A few days following their deaths, I posted on social media my bereavement as a way of informing my friends around the world, with many condolences in return on my facebook page.
Though I did not have any contacts with any of my deceased relatives, friends became very afraid of me- keeping far away from me after my office gave me a 21 day- observation period. Telephone calls to me were even rare on many days while on my 21-day break from work. I even became really traumatized when friends and community members no longer wanted to sit and have the usual jokes with me- they even went farther away from me whenever I went around the community, even though I was never infected by the Ebola virus.
Can you imagine friends and other community people referring to me as “the boy who sisters died of Ebola; you don’t know him,”? When I am even entering a gathering of friends at entertainment centers, I usually observed people hanging heads and glancing at me, and suddenly a someone would walk to me and say to me: “you are the Edwin right?”
If I said yes, the person would then say to me: “I am sorry for your lost brother.” For some of my immediate friends, they would jokingly say to me in my face: “my man, please leave from among us because you under quarantined by your office,” and everyone will laugh about it.
Quite frankly, I felt very terrible when I visited the Chicken Soup Factory Community where one of my sisters died. The children of one of my deceased sisters appeared like people indicted of “multiple world crimes.” No one wanted to identify with them anymore. Imagine I am their uncle-not even living in their community and I’m stigmatized, what more, then, about them (the kids). It is actually about time now to do away with the stigmatization of people, whose family members succumbed to Ebola. Even survivors returning to our respective communities must be received with the highest degree of enthusiasms- their re-entry into the communities must be seen as a victory over Ebola instead.
A vigorous awareness scheme against stigmatization must be prioritized by the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of health and partners so that Ebola survivors and their relatives will not continue to be traumatized as it happened to me when my two sisters and nephew died of the disease.