Sierra Leone Reports New Ebola Death, One Day After WHO Declaration
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
In Sierra Leone, a corpse has tested positive for Ebola just one day after the World Health Organization declared West Africa's Ebola outbreak - the deadliest one in history - over. It's a reminder that people in the region will be living with Ebola for a long time. Although the outbreak killed 11,000 people, 17,000 people who got Ebola survived. There is some evidence that Ebola can live on in survivors, which means they can still be isolated from their families and communities. And we reached one survivor today in his yard in Liberia's capital, Monrovia.
FODAY GALLAH: Hello, hello.
MCEVERS: His name is Foday Gallah, and he's a paramedic. Two years ago, he was an ambulance driver who picked up people with Ebola symptoms and brought them to the ETU, or Ebola treatment unit. One day, he met a boy whose whole family had died. The next day, the boy had symptoms. Foday Gallah was wearing protective gear, but he still got exposed to the boy's fluids.
GALLAH: The next day, I came down with a very severe fever. I had to lock myself in my room. I told my mother, my brothers and everybody to stay away from me until the next day. My own very ambulance drove me to the ETU.
MCEVERS: The Ebola treatment unit.
GALLAH: Yeah, the Ebola treatment unit. And when I got there, I tested positive.
MCEVERS: You tested positive for Ebola?
GALLAH: Yes, yes.
MCEVERS: You and the boy survived.
GALLAH: Yeah. He and myself were sharing the same thing in the ETU.
MCEVERS: You guys were in the same room in the Ebola treatment unit?
GALLAH: In the same room.
MCEVERS: Wow. Do you still have any side effects from Ebola?
GALLAH: Yes, I have side effects. I have a problem with my eye.
MCEVERS: You have a problem with your eyes?
GALLAH: Yeah, with my eye. I cannot read for long unless I use glasses - reading glasses. And I have constant headache. That's one of the complications that Ebola left. So whenever I feel any of these symptoms, I go to the hospital. We're going to be living with this probably for the rest of our lives.
MCEVERS: Some of his friends have it worse. He says some families are breaking up because people are afraid Ebola can be passed through sex. Other people have edema, where their whole bodies swell up.
GALLAH: It breaks my heart. It worries me because I know the pains I have has to do with Ebola. I sacrificed - I nearly died because I wanted to help my brothers and sisters, so I know what their pains are like.
MCEVERS: Foday Gallah was also isolated because he had Ebola and survived.
GALLAH: I was stigmatized many a time. When I return home, people felt that my home was an Ebola home. Nobody wanted to come around. My mother in tears, my brother worried about me. It's like adding more trauma onto us.
MCEVERS: It's like adding more trauma onto us, he says. But still, Foday Gallah is open about being an Ebola survivor. His photo's on billboards all over Monrovia. I asked him why.
GALLAH: Because I want for other people to gain strength from my courage so that they can understand that Ebola is not a death sentence. It's painful. It's horrible. It's unbearable. But It's not a death sentence.
MCEVERS: Yesterday, as we said, the Ebola outbreak was officially declared over. And then, today, a new case was reported. What was your reaction to this news?
GALLAH: Well, remember Liberia has been declared two different times.
MCEVERS: That's right.
GALLAH: And yesterday was the third time.
GALLAH: Nobody understands exactly what Ebola is. So until we can have an answer to these things, we're not off the hook. I say we have to go, like, two or three years, then we can say we are Ebola-free.
MCEVERS: What's next for you? I understand you're in medical school. You're studying to be an anesthetist?
GALLAH: Yeah. At first, I wanted to become an anesthetist. But I have to change because I realize that most of friends that left the ETU are coming out with mental illness. And I believe it will not be easy for healthcare providers to understand people like us because we've been there. We felt it. We went through the same pain. So I want to become a mental health clinician.
MCEVERS: A mental health clinician?
GALLAH: Yeah, a mental health clinician. If God can bless me and I become a mental health clinician, I'm going to help a lot of my friends.
MCEVERS: Well, Foday Gallah, thank you so much for talking to us today.
GALLAH: Thank you so much.
MCEVERS: That's Foday Gallah. He's an Ebola survivor and a medical student in Monrovia, Liberia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.