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The battle against one of the deadliest viruses of this century is far from over
Today marks one year since the launch of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Ebola response, when the public and charities across the UK came together to support the fight against Ebola in West Africa.
A year later and Liberia has officially been declared Ebola-free with Sierra Leone only a week away from reaching the same milestone. Whilst there is cause for optimism, emerging stories of health complications amongst survivors and communities still struggling to recover remind us that the battle against one of the deadliest viruses of this century is far from over.
More than 11,300 people in West Africa lost their lives to Ebola. Families and communities across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea were left devastated by the disease as it spread across their countries and escalated into a global emergency.
But the deaths are only one part of the story. What is less well known is the disease has continued to devastate the lives of many survivors, leaving behind a legacy of stigma, orphaned children, disrupted communities and economic dislocation.
The evidence of this is clear in Sierra Leone, where ActionAid has a long-term country programme, the effect of the crisis has been to set back years of recovering from civil war.
Entrenched issues of hunger and deprivation have been made worse by the crisis and fear of the disease is still prevalent.
Thousands of children have also been left orphaned by the disease. One little girl our teams met, seven-year-old Isatu, lost both her parents to Ebola. She now lives with her randmother and has little to live on and cannot afford to eat breakfast. Isatu is one of those desperate to go back to school but can’t because during the outbreak her uniform was burned and they cannot afford to buy her a new one.
Our team also met 15-year-old girl Kumba who survived Ebola but lost her parents to the disease. She has been out of school for the past year and told us she was worried about her education because there was no-one to pay her school fees any more. She told us “I am hopeful that the future will be good, but only if I can get an education and be able to stay at school.”
Meanwhile in Liberia where ActionAId also works the same is true. Recent progress made in recovering from the devastating impact of Liberia’s own brutal civil war has been dramatically set back, with investment virtually stopping, production declining and the whole rhythm of the economy disrupted.
Stigma also continues to affect the lives of those who have survived or been left orphaned by the disease. Many children are unable to return to school because they cannot cover costs or are seen as infectious and ostracised.
The reality is that we are still only beginning to come to grips with the implications of the crisis. While ActionAid is continuing to work on providing relief to families who have lost everything and helping children continue with their education, more research is needed to find out what its long-term health and societal impacts will be.
But what we know for certain is that the legacy of the crisis will continue to be with us for a long time.
Mike Noyes is the Head Of Humanitarian Response & Resilience, ActionAid UK