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Ebola is not the end of the world, and it can be beaten

Nurse Rebecca Johnson

WHO Executive Board Special Session on Ebola
25 January 2015

President, Vice President, Director-General of the World Health Organization, honorable ministers, distinguished delegates, colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen, I greet you all.

My story is entitled “Ebola is not the end of the world.”

Prior to contracting Ebola, I was a nurse. I administered care to Ebola patients at the PTS1 Ebola treatment centre, Hastings, Freetown, Sierra Leone and was part of the original team that opened the centre. There were only Sierra Leonean nurses and doctors working at that time and we gave our all to our patients.

I grew up with the passion to become a nurse. We opened PTS1 Ebola treatment centre in Hastings, Freetown on September 19th and I started working on the same day. Whenever I went in with my PPE, I would see patients vomiting and stooling blood – adults and children alike. Through the whole process I was never discouraged but became more committed to my role as a healthcare giver to Ebola patients.

Naturally I was taking all the necessary measures to prevent contracting the disease. Despite thorough trainings and taking all the necessary precautions, I contracted the disease. How I got it is a mystery.

I initially did not know it was Ebola. I have been diagnosed with gastric ulcer for a while and was experiencing symptoms typical to those I have had before – vomiting and body aches.

It was my mother who noticed something different and convinced me to go to the hospital to Dr Santigie Sesay. Dr Sesay, knowing that I was working at the PTS1 Ebola treatment centre, Hastings, Freetown, Sierra Leone, realized that mine was likely a case of Ebola and that early treatment care is one of the few ways to beat the virus. I got tested and, within 24 hours, my test confirmed that I was Ebola positive. If I had not taken those steps so early enough, I would not have been here today.

I realized it was Ebola virus disease before I read the test result, when those who were to inform me about my status came into the room wearing their PPE suits. All of the doctors and nurses present at the time told me “Ebola is not the end of the world” which is what eventually got me through the battle.

I began to see improvement within 2-3 weeks of my diagnosis of the Ebola virus disease. The medical staff present were always so supportive and provided me with the constant motivations. They were always shaking me and forcing me to believe that “this is not the end of the world.”

I was unable to do basic things at a point in time like for example walking, eating and talk-ing, but I had to relearn doing them all through the help of my colleagues at the treatment centre before I was discharged. I became blind during this phase of the Ebola disease, but I recovered my sight before discharge. I was unable to sleep and had generalized body itch. There was a point in time I almost lost my life and thank Dr Kanneh, who fought hard to re-vive and resuscitate me.

On the 13th December, I was discharged after 4 weeks of being in PTS1 Ebola treatment centre – that is the treatment centre where I cared for Ebola patients and which was now caring for me. I was given a certificate to show that I was Ebola free. However many people do treat me as if I still have Ebola. I was stigmatized and am still stigmatized by people in my community. I sometimes sit in quiet places and cry, but thanks to my family for their support and words of encouragement at these times.

My final message to people out there is this: “Even though there is no certain cure for Ebola, early treatment is your best chance at survival.”

The reason I am speaking to you all today is because I understand the effects of Ebola from the point of view of a health care provider to Ebola patients and most importantly, from the point of view of a survivor. Ebola can be beaten.

Ladies and gentlemen, for Sierra Leone and its people, and the world as a whole, so that others do not have to go through what I experienced, my colleagues, my partners and I hope to form an organization called Pink Cross Sierra Leone, that will partner with WHO and other international organizations to establish a centre designated for disease prevention and control. (This would be) ….a civil society and private-sector driven project for disease prevention and counselling of Ebola victims associated with stigma, for example people like myself could give life experience, counselling to other Ebola survivors and others with relat-ed deadly diseases. We are just waiting for support to start this operation in Sierra Leone.

I would like to thank God almighty greatly for guiding me thorough this ordeal. I would like to also say special thanks to the Government of Sierra Leone, more especially the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, the Ministry of Health, NERC doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, all frontline workers and those who have lost the battle against this deadly disease, for their hard work in fighting the disease. I would like to give special thanks to the United Nations and its organizations, the EU, AU, MSF, the Centre of Disease Control, other international organizations and NGOs, foreign countries (for example Britain, USA, China, Canada, Australia, Cuba and many others who because of time I cannot name) who have been of help to us, and people who are praying for us and helping us in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Thanks also to the Presidents of our two sister countries affected likewise i.e. Liberia and Guinea.

I am hereby appealing to nations here to kindly make a pledge towards the accomplishment of Pink Cross in Sierra Leone so as to enable us as to actively participate in nation building as stated in goal number two of the sustainable development goals.

Therefore I want the whole world to know that “Ebola is not the end of the world, and it can be beaten.” I thank you all for your audience.