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Ebola Virus Survivors Face Stigma

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The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has infected more than 240 people so far, and has been fatal to over 145. Ebola results in death in 68% of all cases, though at times those who survive recover quickly and completely. Yet, survivors still face the challenge of social stigma in their communities, regardless of being completely healthy and free of the disease.

For instance, a doctor who has survived a bout with Ebola was scheduled to give an interview on Guinean radio to describe his recovery, but the station would not allow him into the studio. Upon the doctor’s arrival at the station, the program director told a representative of Doctors Without Borders, “We’d prefer he speak by phone from downstairs. I can’t take the risk of letting him enter our studio.”

Human-to-human transmission of Ebola occurs via direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from an infected person, or by contact with contaminated medical equipment such as needles. No cases of aerosol transmission have been reported, and a potential for widespread Ebola epidemics is considered to be low, due to the high fatality rate of the illness, along with the rapidity of demise of patients.

The Guinean doctor who survived Ebola, who wished to remain anonymous, commented, “Thanks be to God, I am cured. But now I have a new disease: the stigmatization that I am a victim of. This disease (the stigma) is worse than the fever.” The doctor contracted Ebola while caring for an ailing colleague in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, but survived the onset of symptoms by staying hydrated.

David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, explained that the key to surviving Ebola is staying alive long enough for the body to build enough antibodies to stave off the virus.

Regardless of being cleared of Ebola, the doctor commented, “Now, everywhere in my neighborhood, all the looks bore into me like I’m the plague.” Guinea’s Ministry of Health has stopped naming neighborhoods where Ebola outbreaks have occurred, in an effort to protect survivors from stigmatization.

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Ebola Virus Survivors Face Stigma
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