Sierra Leone's Rescue Team: Ebola survivors supporting each other

February 2015

The "Rescue Team", an association set up by Ebola survivors to help fellow survivors trying to put their lives back together again, is now exploring ways to contribute to the Ebola outbreak response in Sierra Leone.

Sherrie Bangura, an Ebola survivor and founder of
Sherrie Bangura, an Ebola survivor and founder of "Rescue team", a network of more than 90 Ebola survivors in Port Loko district, Sierra Leone
WHO/P. Desloovere

"How can I make a life when I have no hope? My future is blind," says Sherrie Bangura as he contemplated life after recovering from Ebola virus disease.

Back in October 2014, Mr Bangura, 25 years-old, fell ill with Ebola virus disease after caring for his sister, who died from the disease. Twenty-four other people living in the same house contracted the virus and died. Only Mr Bangura and 2 other people survived.

Before he fell ill, Mr Bangura had lived with his uncle. But when he was discharged from the Ebola treatment centre, Mr Bangura found he was no longer welcome back in his own home. "I don’t want to remember the day my uncle told me to leave his house. He is the one who should have helped me, but he denied me instead," said Mr Bangura, his voice shaking with emotion.

Survivors’ association offers support

Sierra Leone now has over 2000 Ebola survivors, who are celebrated as heroes throughout the country. However, once back in the community many face the harsh reality of stigmatization.

Knowing what their fellow survivors might be suffering, Mr Bangura and a few other survivors have created the Rescue Team, an association of Ebola survivors. "There are Ebola survivors who cannot advocate for themselves, and many of them cannot read or write. We created this association to advocate for all of us," he explained.

Survivors can help reach communities

The Rescue Team has more than 90 members, many of them young adults from the Port Loko district, one of the current Ebola "hotspots". Esther Ngegba, the WHO social mobilizer working in the district, says members of the Rescue Team can play an important part in strengthening community engagement in the district.

"Some communities are still doing unsafe burials. We are exploring how the Rescue Team survivors can become social mobilizers to help us to get to zero cases," says Ms Ngegba. "Since they are from the community, they will be able to reach out to areas where others cannot go," she added.