Ebola fighters are arguably some of the bravest people in the world. Their resilience and persistence to combat a disease that has no known treatment or cure has been hailed everywhere. However, they remain subjected to stigma and discrimination by some of their neighbors and relatives who fear they could spread the virus. MSF’s Ebola fighter, Jackson K.P. Naimah, a physician assistant, tells his story:
My wife and I live a lonely life. Our neighbors have barred their children from playing with our children – our home is a ‘no go zone’ for them. Some of them have gone as far as suspending speech with me and my wife. We’ve been isolated because we are both health workers. I work as a physician assistant at MSF’s ELWA 3 Ebola Management Center in Paynesville, and my wife works at the John F. Kennedy Hospital as a midwife. People accused us of being carriers of the disease. If we fall victim, will they rejoice and be happy we’re dead and gone?
I lost my niece and my cousin to Ebola in July last year. But that did not discourage me from volunteering for Médecins Sans Frontières to combat the virus in Liberia over the past five months. I felt the urge as a trained physician assistant to save the vulnerable lives that have been struck. The task has not been easy. In this battle, one must always keep on the safe side or risk joining the victims. We’re not fighting Ebola blindly. We’re fighting it with our conscious-minds. Safety on the frontline depends on your carefulness and straight adherence to protocols. Mistakes are not permissible here. You constantly have to remind yourself of the things you’re ought to do in order to not get infected through touching an infected person or object.
My family understands what I’m doing and supports me. Still some of our neighbors and friends do not get this. They ostracize us. It sometimes makes me wonder whether I am working for or against society.
Every day spent at the Ebola management center has been heartrending. One moment a patient survives and you celebrate and then in a split second, you see another patient whom you talked to over a couple of hours ago wrapped in body bag. You finish your day emotionally devastated and psychologically traumatized. And when you return home hoping to have some gentle conversations with your neighbors and relax your mind with friends, they give you cold-shoulder instead. This feels like an unfair punishment. The people whom we work for don’t appreciate us. I am actually looking forward to the day some of the patients I cared for will thank me for helping to save their lives.
A few colleagues have left their job because of stigma. But I take this as a challenge. We cannot abandon the treatment centers. There’ll be no one to care for patients if we do. It’s our responsibility. We have hope, we are proud and we will remain very careful.
Before joining Medecins Sans Frontieres Ebola Emergency mission in Liberia in August last year, Jackson K.P. Naimah worked as a vaccine co-chain officer in Liberia’s ministry of health and social welfare.