The family of Bernard Lansana Soumah, an Ebola survivor, Guinea,. Photo courtesy of WHO/P. Haughton
The family of Bernard Lansana Soumah never expected to experience Ebola. When Bernard’s wife, Macire, became infected, they realized Ebola was real. Today, Bernard and Macire are among the lucky ones and they are vigilant in watching for signs of infection among those in their community while also providing a message of survival and hope.
Bernard rides in to Alassoya, Guinea, on his motorbike with a shirt that reads "Stop Ebola!" Seeing this calm, collected farmer today, you would never expect that just two months ago his wife and 6-year-old child started developing Ebola symptoms.
The Ebola epidemic hit Alassoya in the Forecariah prefecture in August 2014 and has since seen 55 confirmed cases. When it first hit, families such as Bernard’s were reluctant to believe that Ebola was real. Rumors and misconceptions were rife. Even one year after the outbreak started in Guinea, when Bernard’s wife Macire started to get headaches and fatigue one evening in April, she thought nothing of it and stayed at home.
It wasn’t until Bernard and Macire’s 6-year-old son Alkali started to show similar symptoms that they began to worry. They took Alkali straight to the hospital in Forecariah Centre and both mother and son were examined. Alkali was diagnosed with malaria, while Macire tested positive for Ebola.
"It was when Macire and Alkali were taken to the hospital that my family and I began to realize, Ebola was a reality," admitted Bernard.
Macire spent 25 days at the Ebola Treatment Center in Forecariah, separated from her family and her son, who was still ill with malaria. During this time, Bernard was listed as a contact and had to put his work in the fields on hold to monitor himself and his family.
The day that Macire left the hospital was a day of happiness and relief for the family. With the mother of the family back at home and no other family members affected, the Soumah family were among the lucky ones.
"After suffering from Ebola, I now know what to do if one of my family members gets sick. I can recognize the signs, so if I notice that someone is ill, I will take them straight to the hospital," said Macire.
But Bernard and Macire’s family were not left without scars. The close-knit communities of Alassoya have witnessed and experienced a lot of pain as the epidemic swept the region. Nine months after Ebola hit, the community is not yet in the clear, with another case reported in the sub-prefecture this week and 9 cases in total reported in Forecariah.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently led a four-day surveillance campaign, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the African Union in Forecariah to find the remaining cases and stop the spread of the virus. Following this campaign, surveillance teams will continue surveillance and investigation activities for 17 days to cover the 21-day incubation period of the Ebola virus. The teams are made up of a community surveillance worker, a doctor and either a communications or a social mobilization specialist.
"These door-to-door teams go from household to household to sensitize the families and identify any cases which have not declared themselves voluntarily," said Dr Amadou Mouctar Diallo, coordinator of the WHO Ebola response in Forecariah.
"Over the first 4 days, the teams visited more than 8000 households reaching close to 40,000 people. Through the campaign we identified 39 alerts, 29 community deaths and a total of seven confirmed Ebola cases. We will continue active surveillance with all of the teams for the next 17 days."
WHO is redoubling its efforts in regions such as Forecariah to put an end to the epidemic in Guinea so families like Bernard and Macire’s can recover their lives and livelihoods. For now, the mood in Allassoya is one of vigilance and hope.
As for Macire? With a smile from ear to ear, she explains that she has recently taken on a job looking after children at the Forecariah hospital.