Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec 11, 2014 / 20:07 pm
Bishops in West Africa have appealed for more help for a hospital in a region suffering many Ebola infections, as the disease's survivors lament its destructive impact on their loved ones and their communities.
"The Ebola situation is still very grim. Our health workers are at great risk and some have lost their lives," said Father Paul Sandi, secretary general of the Catholic Conference of the Gambia and Sierra Leone.
The Catholic hospital in Serabu in Sierra Leone has 80 beds and serves 3,000 patients a year. It is located about 140 miles from the national capital of Freetown, and serves six villages and other areas in the region. It is staffed by two doctors, 14 nurses, six health officers, and a health assistant, the Alexandria, Virginia-based La Asociación Nacional de Inmigrantes says.
The hospital is in severe need of medicine and other medical supplies to combat Ebola and other diseases. Cholera, malaria and typhoid infections have increased due to the social and economic instability caused by the Ebola outbreak.
Moyamba town residents Theresa Ngeba, 17, and her 14-year-old sister Lucy lost their father and two brothers to Ebola. Their elder brother, a community health officer, contracted the disease; their father and another brother tried to nurse him, but they contracted the disease and died as well.
The sisters were isolated and tested negative for the disease, and have said, "we are happy to have survived but we still bear scars of the destruction and chaos the virus has had on our family."
Their mother had died from other causes. The sisters now rely on relatives for financial support, but they may not be able to continue their education because their family's sole breadwinner has died.
"We thank God for our lives though it has not been easy at all," the sisters said.
About 6,300 people in West Africa are estimated to have died in the outbreak, with at least 17,800 infected. Sierra Leone has suffered the most from the outbreak, with close to 8,000 infected, according to World Health Organization statistics.
Many hundreds more may not be included in the count.
Umaru Jakema, a resident of the Southern Province city of Bo, survived Ebola.
"I got infected in October after helping to carry a sick neighbor to the hospital," Jakema said. "The man was a teacher and the community health worker. He was a respectable man in our community who always made himself available to help others."
He said his neighbor was "in very serious pain" and could not walk.
"As a neighbor, I was moved with pity and helped his children to carry him for medical intervention," Jakema said.
His neighbor was diagnosed with Ebola and died.
"When I heard about the circumstances surrounding his death, I was seized with fear," Jakema said. Two weeks after his neighbor died, he himself started showing symptoms.
"I was very weak and could hardly walk," he said. He started vomiting and suffering from diarrhea.
"I lost appetite and could barely swallow saliva. I had constant pain all over my body," he said. "After three days, I started getting better and I gradually regained my strength. I am grateful to the medical team who took care of me."
Jakema said he feels healthy now, but his community is afraid of him and discriminates against him.
Sallay Gendemeh, from the city of Kenema, also told her story.
Her father was a community health officer with a private pharmacy attached to the family home.
"One day in June, he treated a female patient from a nearby village who complained of malaria and stomach ache. The patient died later and the laboratory test confirmed that she was Ebola positive."
Her father became sick and died, while Gendemeh, her mother and two brothers became sick from the virus.
"Thankfully we were taken to hospital for early treatment," she said, though another brother, the youngest, died.
"All our possessions were burnt as a way of disinfecting the house," she said. "The most disheartening thing is that we do not know where they buried my father and brother."
Gendemeh said the community is supporting her family, adding "we are looking to the future with hope."
The hospital in Serabu operates an isolation center for Ebola patients and also serves children orphaned by Ebola.
The Gambia and Sierra Leone bishops have asked La Asociación Nacional de Inmigrantes to collect funds for medical supplies at the hospital.