Health

UN Launches Mobile App To Help Fight Ebola Stigma

CREDIT: AP Photo/ Michael Duff

A man and woman taking part in a Ebola prevention campaign holds a placard with an Ebola prevention in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone

Once you’ve survived Ebola, the deadly virus that’s sparked a global health crisis, what comes next?

Survivors of the Ebola virus often face stigma in their communities, especially as misinformation and denial about the disease remains widespread throughout much of West Africa. That’s why some of the people who have conquered the disease will have the opportunity to share their stories through a mobile app.

Survivors in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia — the countries hardest hit by the ongoing Ebola epidemic — will document their stories and give advice about coping with the virus to members of the public through the #iSurvivedEbola campaign. Paul G. Allan, the co-founder of Microsoft who committed $100 million to fight the disease, launched the effort with UNICEF earlier this week.

“While treatment of Ebola patients is critical, the best way to end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is to cut the chain of transmission and prevent further infections,” Rafael Obregon of UNICEF said in a statement. “#ISurvivedEbola is reinforcing our efforts by providing this information in multiple, highly entertaining forms, including through the testimonies of actual survivors.”

Several survivors — including Camara “Fanta” Fantaoulen in Guinea who lost six members of her family to Ebola, and Decontee Davis, a 23-year-old from Liberia who overcame Ebola but lost her fiancé — have agreed to participate in the project.

Here in the United States, Liberian-American woman Shoana Solomon did her part in challenging misconceptions about Ebola with a viral video she launched days after school officials sent her nine-year-old daughter home when she sneezed. In the video, Solomon holds up a sign that says “I am a Liberian, not a Virus” while recounting her daughter’s experience. “We are Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, Guineans, and Nigerians. We live in a region that has been devastated by a deadly disease, but we’re not all infected. It is wrong to stereotype and stigmatize an entire people. Remember, we are human beings,” Solomon said in the video.

While there’s no proven treatment for Ebola, supportive care-rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids and treatment of specific symptoms have been found to improve one’s chances of survival. Two vaccines are undergoing human safety testing. Medical professionals in the epicenter of the virus have also experimented with the blood product of Ebola survivors, and immune and drug therapies.

But some West Africans have taken the battle against Ebola in their own hands. After the virus surfaced in the Sierra Leonean community of Penguia last year, for instance, the town chief prevented deaths by teaming up with the World Health Organization and award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright to supply chlorine, 100 washing stations, and medical supplies to residents. That success story inspired Wright’s #CrushEbolaNow campaign, an effort similar to the new UNICEF campaign to tell stories of survival and combat xenophobia of West Africans.

For other West Africans, taking on Ebola stood as the only option. Last summer, Liberian woman Fatu Kekula singlehandedly cared for her sick mother, father, sister, and cousin without using any government-approved protective gear. Since hearing Kekula’s story, international aid workers have used her “trash bag method” — a process during which people use trash bags, rubber boots, and rubber gloves as protective gear — as a means of quelling the virus’ spread. The valiant 22-year-old also won an academic scholarship that will help her complete her nursing studies in the United States.

“Essentially this is a tale of how communities are doing things for themselves,” UNICEF Spokeswoman Sarah Crowe told CNN. “Our approach is to listen and work with communities and help them do the best they can with what they have.”

Since the first reported case of Ebola appeared in Guinea in March 2014, more than 7,900 people have succumbed and more than 20,000 have been affected in West Africa, according to figures compiled by the World Health Organization. The current outbreak, described as the largest and most complex of its kind since its discovery in the mid-1970s, has disrupted activity and caused pandemonium in a region still reeling from years of civil conflict. However, the virus should be eradicated by the end of the year, according to United Nations officials.