Orphaned by Ebola: A Life in Limbo


While assessing the effects of Ebola on the lives of children in Moyamba district, Southern Sierra Leone, I met 17-year-old Josephine Ngagba. Her story broke my heart. But it also strengthened my resolve to fight this terrible, devastating disease.

Ebola has left Josephine an orphan. Her temporary home is the government hospital in Moyamba Township. The deadly virus has robbed her of her family and her education. She was unable to take her first Basic Education Certificate Examination because schools in Sierra Leone have been suspended indefinitely.

Josephine’s older brother was the first Ebola victim in her family, but it wasn’t confirmed to be the cause of death until shortly after his burial. Her father and younger brother were the only ones who attended the funeral, and a few days after, a team of health personnel from the District Health Medical Team (DHMT) visited their home to announce it was under quarantine, and no one could leave the house. A few days into the quarantine period, Josephine’s father and brother started showing symptoms of Ebola with pain in the throat, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. After hearing the radio and television ads on Ebola produced by agencies like CARE, Josephine remembered to call medical personnel to report possible Ebola cases. But she could not initially get through. As Josephine frantically continued dialling the number throughout the night with no success, her father and brother grew sicker. She finally got through the next morning, and a health team took her father and brother to the Kenema Ebola Treatment Center. But it was too late. Her father died on the way. Her brother died a few days later in the isolation ward of the treatment center.

Upon hearing this news, Josephine was devastated. And fearful. She and her remaining siblings were still under quarantine in their home. As the days went by, her two sisters and her brother also began developing symptoms of Ebola. They went to a holding center in Moyamba Township to be screened. The test results came back positive for all of her three siblings. Only Josephine tested negative. She feared this was a death sentence for her entire family and it would only be a matter of time before Ebola took her life, as well.

“In fact, I am not feeling good that I don’t have Ebola,” Josephine said. “Because I spent my birthday in a quarantined home and I have lost almost all of my love ones, most especially my lovely dad who was so fond of me.”

After testing negative for Ebola, the doctor recommended Josephine be discharged from the isolation unit, but she had nowhere to go. She could not bring herself to live alone without any of her family, and her neighbors were afraid to let her in their homes after her entire family was infected. Although the doctor insisted she leave the isolation center, the medical team allowed Josephine to stay temporarily in a holding area for other patients with infected family members, like Josephine.  

These days Josephine waits, hoping the virus that has taken so much spares her sisters and brother. They are all she has left. 

Written by Alex Bobor Keimbe


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