Sisto shares his experience during a community dialogue session organized by the National Ebola Survivors’ Program. The session was held to dispel rumors and false information about Ebola and survivors.
Ebola survivor Sisto is always enthusiastic to share his Ebola experience with his friends, family, and local community. He makes sure to clearly explain the Ebola-related symptoms and urges his audience to seek medical attention as soon as they notice any symptoms of Ebola. Sisto is able to volunteer his time in this way thanks to the swift medical attention he received when he caught the virus and the ongoing support he receives from the National Ebola Survivors’ Program. The Survivors’ Program is an initiative from the Ugandan Ministry of Health run in partnership with Baylor Uganda with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Ebola outbreak and treatment
On September 20, 2022, the Ministry of Health declared an Ebola outbreak in the Mubende district of Central Uganda. The early symptoms of Ebola—fever, fatigue, and aches—are very similar to those of malaria, which is widespread in Uganda. This similarity led to some confusion and a missed opportunity to diagnose the early cases.
When Sisto developed the early symptoms, he sought medical treatment at a local clinic, but his condition did not improve. When his symptoms worsened to include vomiting, diarrhea, and palpitations, he was transferred to the larger Kikandwa Health Center.
Charles Kizito, the Health Center Manager recounts, “When we received Sisto, we recognized the persistent fever and symptoms. They were identical to what the Ministry of Health had identified as signs of the Ebola Virus Disease, particularly since he was coming from Madudu, an Ebola danger zone.” The Health Center isolated Sisto right away and later the Ebola response team moved him to the Ebola Treatment Unit at Mubende Regional Referral Hospital.
At the Treatment Unit, Sisto was officially diagnosed with the Ebola virus disease and received treatment. When Sisto was able to leave the hospital and return home to Ngangi village, his recovery helped allay community anxieties that no-one survives the virus. However, Sisto’s battle with Ebola was not over.
National Ebola Survivors’ Program
Many survivors, like Sisto, experience post-Ebola effects that cause them physical and psychological distress. Additionally, stigmatization and discrimination against Ebola survivors, coming from a fear of contracting the disease, can leave survivors feeling dejected.
To support survivors and help reduce their distress, the Ministry of Health launched the National Ebola Survivors’ Program, in partnership with Baylor Uganda and USAID. The program provides survivors with medical care, mental health treatment, and psychosocial support. This psychosocial support is also extended to family members. Common post-recovery side effects the program treats include joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, muscle discomfort, hearing loss, visual complaints, and abdominal and scrotal pain.
To help address fear and stigmatization, the program holds community dialogues and counseling sessions in collaboration with village health team members. These community dialogues take place before and after survivors are discharged from the Ebola Treatment Unit. Through the help of these dialogues, Sisto’s neighbors, wife, and mother warmly welcomed him back home and he quickly resettled into the community.
Sisto explains how he was greatly helped by the Survivor’s Program, “If it weren’t for the medical personnel who checked on us, transported us to the clinic during the lock-down for our medical reviews, and provided us their phone numbers to call them if we weren’t feeling well, I would not have survived the awful stomach pains I suffered.”
In addition to the medical care he received, Sisto also appreciates the program staff who continued to raise awareness about Ebola, enabling his community to follow the health recommendations to help end the outbreak and get their lives back to normal. The Ebola outbreak ended in January 2023 after no new cases had been registered for consecutive 42 days.
As a result of the National Ebola Survivors’ Program’s efforts, Sisto is recovering well from the effects of having Ebola and is taking every opportunity to share his experience with others. Sisto believes he was given another shot at life to be able to warn others about the risks of Ebola and save their lives. He does this through volunteering with the Survivors’ Program.
“Five of my friends are still alive today because they believed me, promptly informed the VHTs [Village Health Teams], and were swiftly transported in ambulances to Mubende Hospital during the outbreak,” says Sisto. “I am a living example that Ebola exists, and people can survive from it. When people fall ill, I always encourage them to seek medical attention; they believe me because I returned alive.”