“I will make it” — a story of survival
Having survived Ebola, Yusuf Kabba set about helping to stop the spread of the disease in Sierra Leone and is now fighting for the rights of all survivors.
Yusuf Kabba, 27 years old and National President of the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors, caught Ebola on 6 October 2014. He had been looking after a neighbour who had become sick in his home community of Allentown. At that point, his family and friends didn’t realise it was the deadly disease — they believed he had fallen victim to witchcraft. “We didn’t know anything about Ebola,” he explains.
Soon after, Yusuf and his close family became ill. He reported his sickness to medics and was taken to Newton — an isolation centre supported by UK aid, where he was tested for Ebola. It came back positive and he was transferred to a government-run centre for treatment.
“I thought: ‘I’m not going to make it’”, says Yusuf. “But after a while, I started to motivate myself. I said: ‘I will make it, I will make it.’”
As his condition improved, Yusuf was moved into the recovery ward, where he set about motivating those around him. “I wanted them to have hope — to see that they could make it too.”
This was just the beginning of his work to help fellow Ebola sufferers. He set up exercise sessions, singing groups and even a dancing competition. He had a plan to change the atmosphere from one of despair, to one of hope.
While in recovery, Yusuf began to write. He realised he could use his own story to help others and based a play on his own experiences, to encourage others to speak out about the dangers of the disease, and the best ways to prevent its spread.
On the 29 November 2014, Yusuf was discharged from the treatment centre in Hastings.
He had survived. But his experience left him wanting to help more people like himself.
“We are the right people to talk about Ebola — we have been through it,” he says. “We can use our testimonies to warn people of the dangers. Who feels it, knows it — that is our motto”.
He started to bring his friends and fellow survivors together. “It began with a discussion between us: now we have survived, but we need to complement the effort of the government and we need to protect the dignity of survivors.”
By January this year, Yusuf and his team had formed the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors — a network that stretches from its centre in Freetown all the way down to local villages in every district.
“We believe in life after Ebola” says Yusuf. This message of hope has so far attracted 4,051 members across the country. “We are giving a voice to the voiceless”.
On the frontline, Yusuf and his teams of survivors helped use their voice to keep communities safe from Ebola — from explaining good hygiene to practising safe sex. And they’re giving survivors themselves support, offering counselling for those hit hardest to help deal with the trauma of the disease, and the loss of their loved ones.
This is alongside their fight for survivors’ rights — calling on the government to make sure those who beat the disease get the ongoing support they need. This could be medical: many continue to suffer health complications — such as uveitis: a potentially blinding eye problem which is common among survivors.
Others have lost their livelihoods and may need help to rebuild their business, or support their family — with many taking on extra parenting duties for children who lost their own mothers and fathers.
The Ebola outbreak is nearing its end in Sierra Leone: the country is set to be declared Ebola free on Saturday 7 November.
“I am happy, because this is what we have been fighting for, and now, it’s becoming a reality,” says Yusuf. “But, as survivors, it is also a mourning period for us. We will be thinking about our brothers, our family members — the people we have lost. We are going to remember them.”
The UK led a huge international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone and will be there after the epidemic is over. We will support the Government of Sierra Leone in their work with survivors through medical advice, counselling and a longer term package of assistance to tackle stigma and help restore their livelihoods. The UK’s objective is to support the Government of Sierra Leone to end the current outbreak, and to maintain the vigilance and preparedness necessary to prevent any future outbreaks from growing into epidemics –maintaining a ‘resilient zero’. Find out more about the UK response to Ebola in Sierra Leone at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-end-of-ebola-in-sierra-leone.
Pictures and interviews: Simon Davis/Department for International Development