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Ebola: Living in the aftermath

Hellen Morris is an Ebola survivor from Liberia who lost her husband and seven of his family members to Ebola in August 2014.

“I contracted Ebola from my mother-in-law who was infected with the virus at a funeral ceremony she attended in Monrovia in July.

The person had died of Ebola, but that information wasn’t disclosed by their relatives to the well-wishers who had gathered to pay their last respects.

My mother-in-law returned home after the funeral rites and fell sick a few days later. We did not know she contracted Ebola from the funeral, so we all cared for her at home.

Sadly she died, and we buried her in the traditional way. That was the beginning of our Ebola nightmare.

A family taken by Ebola

Less than one week after we buried my mother-in-law, my husband, his father and five of his siblings fell ill. At that time, hospitals and clinics in the country were closed. We only had one Ebola centre operating and they couldn’t admit everyone.

So my family slumped helpless in the house, just waiting to die. Before then, I had sent my two children, both under ten years old, to my sister's home to be safe with her. Every day became grimmer; there was no sign of any of the infected people in the house recovering from the virus. Everyone in the neighborhood stayed clear of our yard.

I was mournful, but garnered courage and remained strong. Caring for all the seven infected people became my sole responsibility. I bathed and fed each of them, one after another, every day.  

That went on for about two weeks before I lost all of them in one day. They died in succession within the space of one hour on the morning of 10th August. 

That night, I slept in the house among the dead bodies. I tried calling the body management team to come and remove the them but they did not show up until the following day.

The team came and took the bodies away, and an ambulance came later and drove me to the ELWA 3 Ebola management centre. There, they took my blood specimen and tested it in the laboratory. The result came back positive.

An aerial view of ELWA 3 Ebola management centre where Hellen was admitted for care and recovered.

Living with stigma

I was admitted for care, and was discharged to go home two weeks later when I recovered.

I returned home but my family and neighbours denounced me. They didn’t believe I had beaten Ebola. I showed them a copy of my medical certificate issued by the Ebola centre that officially declared me cured of Ebola, but they were still not convinced.

They telephoned the Ebola call centre to inform them that I escaped from the facilities. The call centre relayed the information to the Ebola centre and a team was dispatched immediately to my house to have me taken back in care. But upon arrival to my house, one of the team members recognised me and told the community that I was discharged from the centre the day before.

“Everyone is afraid of me”

My life is torn apart. I lost my husband and I have no one to console me. Everyone around me is afraid of me even though I have beaten Ebola.

It’s a difficult life to live when friends and family neglect you because of an illness you did not choose. I’ve been evicted from the family house where my husband and I lived before his death.

With no home or sustainable source of income, I struggle to care for my children alone. Now, I am staying with a friend until I save enough money to rent an apartment where my children and I can live.”

At MSF’s ELWA 3 Ebola management centre in Monrovia, MSF has set up a wall where patients cured from Ebola are free to put their handprints in different colors as a symbol of courage and solidarity.

Find out more about MSF's Ebola response