Morris Kromah, 40, a resident of Chicken Soup factory—one of Monrovia’s slum communities—has lost 35 members of his family to the deadly Ebola virus. Now his community refers to him as an Ebola carrier. He had to get the police intervention for members of the community to stay off his back.
Kromah is among the many Ebola survivors who are finding it difficult to reintegrate into their various neighborhoods. “The worst of all is the community stigmatization,” he says. “I have been taken to the police station twice because people in the community say I have been circulating the virus.”
The police made the accuser write an apology to Kromah, but he says it is not enough. He says the government must find a way to provide Ebola survivors and their families with protection from hostile community members.
“The most frustrating part is that a personnel of the Ministry of Health told me to go sit at home to observe another 21-day quarantine,” he says. “As I speak to you, I have [been] quarantined for more than four times. That’s 21 days times four. I took myself to the center, I’m aware that Ebola is deadly, that it kills. People don’t need to remind me of what I’ve suffered.”
To make matters worse, Kromah says his landlord has given him an eviction notice. He says the owner of the house in which he lives has not been sympathetic to him. “I feel very disgusted. I have to pray to be able to withstand this, because it’s hard to take,” he says. “Now as I speak to you, I have no job, nowhere to get money. The landlord saw that I lost a lot of people to Ebola, yet she gives me notice to leave the apartment by November 17.”
Kromah’s ordeal began when his sister, a health worker at a clinic in Monrovia, contracted the virus. Kromah says when his sister became sick, their mother helped to care for her and when she died, the family gave her burial rites according to the Islamic tradition. He says days after the burial of his sister, their mother died and they felt it was because she could not bear the loss of her daughter—therefore death from a broken heart. But the chain of death continued in the family after the burial of their mother. Everyone in the family who had close contact with the two dead women became sick. That’s when Kromah says he took matters in his hands and decided the deaths could be Ebola. He says he urged his sick family members to report themselves to the ELWA-2 Ebola Treatment Unit run by Dr. Jerry Brown and his team with help from the aid group Samaritan’s Purse.
“We were five who reported ourselves to the ETU—one died, one of my brothers died and four returned,” he says. “The second batch of seven persons went into the ETU, two died and five returned. The third batch and the fourth batch went in, so all together; we sent four batches of our family members into the ETU just to break the line of transmission.”
He says that while he was in isolation after he lost his sister, mother, and eldest brother, the brother’s family may have infected his family. “When my brother died of Ebola, his wife and children went into the West Point Holding Center,” he says. “But when patients broke out of the West Point Holding Center they came to our house, they mingled with my family behind my back.”
He says upon his release from the ETU he sent his wife and children in, but lost her and their eight-month-old baby to the disease. Kromah says he has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and he feels he did not contract Ebola even though he was showing all signs and symptoms of the disease before going into the ETU, where he was treated for eight days.
At that time, Liberia was still struggling with the infrastructure to meet the demands of patients as they poured into the ELWA-2, which was then the only ETU in Monrovia and it took four days to get a lab result. Kromah’s first lab result got lost in translation while the second and third came back negative, according to doctors, thus leaving him with the impression that he did not have Ebola. But doctors who treated him feel otherwise.
“We all felt he was positive. The lab technician took his blood sample to the Harbel lab but we never got the result,” says Brown, who treated Kromah’s entire family. “Second lab, third lab results came back negative. We never concluded he didn’t have Ebola. Clinically, we think he had Ebola because all of his children and his wife had the virus.” Brown says Kromah’s wife, his elder son, and his baby died of the virus. He says there were a lot of cases like Kromah, which were undecided because of the lack of capacity to deal with specimens and they, like Kromah, believe they did not contract Ebola, but the reality from the signs and symptoms means they did.
Another Ebola survivor, Amos Payne, of the Duala Community in Monrovia, says his community has made a huge difference in his life because of the way they accepted him back after he was released from the ETU. “My neighbors appreciated me and welcomed me back to the community. I met many of my friends,” he says.
His fiancée, Natasha Folley, says she and the children are happy that Payne is back.
“I feel fine now that he is home. I was very worried about him. I didn’t know whether he would survive Ebola,” she says. Unlike Payne, Kromah continues to struggle to be accepted in his community and does not know when the stigmatization will end.