Ebola not a death sentence - Nigerian survivor

2014-09-11 07:42
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Lagos - With its impressive cursive print and official signatures, the document from Nigeria's health authorities looks like a university diploma.

But in fact, it declares Dennis Akagha has been "cured" of Ebola, one of the world's deadliest diseases.

The "Certificate of Discharge" is also a painful reminder of how Akagha lost his fiancé, their marriage plans, their unborn child and his job in just a few weeks - all to the Eboloa virus which has stricken West Africa, including Nigeria.

"I am a testimony ... of someone who got healed from Ebola," Akagha, a 32-year-old banking graduate, told Reuters in his modest home in the bustling Okota neighborhood of Lagos. "All I know is I'm going to live a normal life."

Nigeria has suffered only a glancing blow from the worst outbreak ever of Ebola, which has killed close to 2 300 people so far, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea further up the coast. So far, only seven of a confirmed 19 Ebola cases in Nigeria have died.

But they include Akagha's fiance, Justina Ejelonu, a 30-year-old nurse. She died on 14 August in Lagos after she had helped to treat an infected Liberian-American man who brought the virus from Monrovia.

Discharge certificate

Ebola is spread through the bodily fluids of infected persons, and Akagha tended and cleaned Ejelonu as she was racked by vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding in the late stages of the illness.

But he only spent a few days in the

Lagos treatment centre before being discharged, put under surveillance and later declared Ebola-free, something he describes as a "miracle".

He shows together with his discharge certificate a photo of himself with Ejelonu and their engagement ring. They are all remnants of a life that he is only now reassembling after his brush with a disease that can kill up to 90% of those it infects.

The mortality rate in the current epidemic is lower, but the virus continues to kill scores daily in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Akagha believes cases like his can give hope by showing death is not inevitable for those who fall ill. Fear has led many West African Ebola patients to hide and shun treatment, leading to wider propagation of the virus.

"If other persons survive like myself, every other person can live," Akagha said. "I want to make sure other people in every part of the country who have issues with Ebola, I want to let them know that Ebola is not a death sentence."

Calling the fear that surrounds Ebola as deadly as the disease itself, he believes that fighting this fear should be part of the medical and humanitarian efforts being made to check the spread of the virus in the world's poorest continent.

This included educating people about it. "I feel even the market women should know what Ebola is," he said.

Social stigmatisation

He knows how close he came to death. He spoke from the battered brown couch at home where he nursed his pregnant companion, before taking her to the hospital where she died.

"She was lying here ... she started bleeding, I had to mop up the blood. I went to her, tried to see how to console her, she vomited on me," he said.

Was he frightened?

"Yes, but if you truly love somebody, you understand ... I think you can go the extra mile," Akagha said.

Akagha's discharge certificate says he "does not constitute any risk to the community" and exhorts his family, the community and the authorities to "encourage his social reintegration."

Like many Ebola patients and survivors in West Africa, he has been stigmatized for contracting the disease.

Justina Ejelonu caught the disease on her first day of work at a Lagos hospital. Akagha had also just landed a job, as a phone salesman with a Nigerian oil products company - early successes they saw as building blocks of their life together.

Once her affliction with Ebola became known through the media, his manager called him. "He said 'do you know this person Justina?' I said: 'Yes, she's my wife'. He said: 'OK, no problem'. After that he stopped taking my calls."

Second chance

Akagha has not gone back to that job. Some friends no longer visit. At the local barber who cut his hair, some clients have stopped going. On his own street, a local vendor, knowing he was treated for Ebola, refused to sell him a toothbrush.

Akagha says he's not fazed. "I don't care how people see or view it," he said. "Will I be walking around with this?" he said scornfully, gesturing with his "discharge" certificate.

Already a profound Christian, Akagha said his spirituality had increased as a result of his experience with Ebola.

"God has really given me a second chance to tell the whole world that He is in the business of doing miracles," he said.

He said he hoped to commemorate his late fiancé’s memory by creating a foundation that could help Ebola sufferers have hope and faith in their recovery, and educate others in this message.

"If you are infected, you can develop a positive mindset and come out of it, take the necessary treatment you're being given ... it is not a death sentence," he repeated once again.

As Akagha showed the reporters out, two female neighbours called "hey, celebrity" from an upstairs balcony, another sign of a life rekindling after an encounter with Ebola.

Read more on:    nigeria  |  west africa  |  ebola  |  health

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