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Sierra Leone Ebola survivors to hold landmark meet

14 October 2014, 15:23

Geneva - Dozens of Ebola survivors, now immune to the deadly disease, will meet in Sierra Leone this week to see how they can help tackle the epidemic, the UN said Tuesday.

They can assist sufferers because they have experienced the stigmatisation caused by the disease and have endured being treated in an isolation ward, Christophe Boulierac, spokesman for the UN's children's aid agency UNICEF, said.

The survivors will gather on Thursday and Friday in Kemena, in southeast Sierra Leone, after the government decided to delay it by one day.

"It's an innovative move to enlist people who are immune to Ebola in Sierra Leone in the fight against the disease. It will bring together 35 people who recovered from Ebola, and some practitioners," Boulierac told reporters in Geneva.

He said more gatherings were in the pipeline, noting that last month UNICEF had said it eventually hoped to connect 2,500 survivors.

The Kenema meeting, involving people from the local area, has been organised by Sierra Leone with backing from UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control.

The Kenema survivors will have sessions with experts in psychosocial support and mental health.

"The goal is both to help these survivors cope with stigmatisation and to rebuild their lives, but also to identify those among them who want to, and can, advise health and community workers currently involved in the fight against Ebola, and notably in dealing with people in quarantine," the spokesman added.

In addition, the plan is to pick out individuals to work as counsellors in communities and treatment centres.

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic, just back from west Africa, said he had been impressed by the attitude of survivors.

Facing stigmatization

"Many of them really try to get into the response, and this is something we should really welcome. One of the reasons is because they are facing stigmatization at home. The other is that they know what it is to be in an isolation ward and what it is to go through this," Jasarevic said.

More than 4,000 people have died in the Ebola epidemic that broke out in west Africa in December, according to the latest figures released by the WHO on Friday.

As of October 8, 4,033 people had died out of a total of 8,399 registered cases in seven countries.

Liberia is the worst-hit of all, with 4,076 cases and 2,316 deaths, followed by Sierra Leone with 2,950 cases and 930 deaths.

Guinea, where the epidemic began, has seen 1,350 cases and 778 deaths.

Health workers continue to pay a heavy price for their efforts with 233 deaths out of 416 cases.

People who survive gain immunity to the virus, but also face severe stigma.

Boulierac said a recent survey of 1,400 households in Sierra Leone found that 96 percent reported a discriminatory attitude towards people with suspected or confirmed Ebola, while 76 percent said they would not welcome a survivor back into their community.

Children who are infected or orphaned are particularly affected.

"One creative way to address this gap is to build a pool of Ebola survivors who can provide these children with the love, the care and the attention they need," said Boulierac.

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