Kamiyati’s life was completely changed by the Ebola outbreak in Uganda in 2022. But through her own determination, coupled with the support, care, and generosity of others, she is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Kamiyati’s home district, Kassanda, was one of the areas most affected by the spread of the Sudan Ebola virus disease. The disease claimed many lives, including Kamiyati’s husband. Many others were infected, including Kamiyati and her 3-year old daughter.
A life torn apart
When Kamiyati and her daughter’s Ebola tests returned positive, they were both immediately transported to the Ebola Treatment Unit at the Mubende Regional Referral Hospital. Faith Kakai, a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Counselor working with Baylor-Uganda, says Kamiyati was unsurprisingly “devastated, bewildered, angry, in denial, worried, and traumatized” when she arrived at the unit, having already lost her husband to the disease.
While in the hospital, Kamiyati felt extremely apprehensive about her family’s future. In the short term, she was worried about her sick daughter and the other children, including her three-month-old son, who were being held in quarantine since they had been in contact with those who had confirmed Ebola cases. In the long term, she was worried about how the family would cope, particularly in terms of their economic survival, given the death of her husband.
Support from the National Ebola Survivors’ Program and others
The National Ebola Survivors’ Program was started by the Ministry of Health, in partnership with Baylor Uganda, and with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The program offers medical care, mental health treatment, and psychological support to Ebola survivors.
One of the first things the program did for Kamiyati was to ensure that she and her children were able to keep in touch with one another during her time in hospital. Quarantine center and program staff coordinated calls from the quarantined children to the Ebola Treatment Unit, allowing them to chat with their mother and sister.
The children stayed in the quarantine center until Kamiyati was discharged from the hospital, given that they had nobody at home to care for them. In collaboration with UNICEF, the program provided Ready-to-Use Infant Formula and a caregiver for Kamiyati’s three-month-old son. Program staff visited Kamiyati’s children, and others in the same situation, bringing clothes and toys donated by UNICEF and Baylor Uganda.
While Kamiyati was in hospital, the Survivors’ Program visited her neighbors to educate them about Ebola and dispel any myths and misinformation, including that Kamiyati would still be contagious when she returned home. The program asked the neighbors to help Kamiyati and her children resettle in the community once they left the hospital and quarantine center.
Through the work of the program, many people in Kamiyati’s village dispelled previous misconceptions and committed to support the entire family when they returned, including by sharing their food.
Ongoing support for Kamiyati and her baby
The Survivors’ Program continued to assist Kamiyati and her family after she left the Ebola Treatment Unit. For example, program staff drove her to the survivors’ clinic for weekly counseling sessions and check-ups.
To protect her son, Kamiyati could not breastfeed until her milk was declared Ebola free and the program stepped in to help with this issue, “I thought it would be challenging not to breastfeed, but the team always delivers the baby’s milk on time. The medical staff also gave me medication to stop the milk flow.”
“The program staff has continued to refill, monitor consumption of RUIF [Ready-to-Use Infant Formula] as well as monitor the growth and development of the baby. As a result of these efforts, the child has gained weight from 6.5 kg to 8 kg in two months,” explained Allan Komugisa, a Nutritionist working with Baylor Uganda.
Ebola peer support group helps a fellow survivor
Kamiyati was taken aback to see fellow survivors working with the Kalwana Ebola Survivors’ Association to construct a new house for her after they noticed her home had fallen into disrepair during her traumatic period of loss and illness. “All of these men knew and were friends of my late husband. They contracted the disease and several of them experienced loss as I did,” she says, still speechless at the generosity of the 14-member group that had been established to help fellow survivors deal with psychological reactions to the disease.
“All our livelihoods were affected, we were being stigmatized and were facing discrimination from the community, and luckily the National Ebola Survivors’ Program, which offers us medical care and psychosocial support, helped us through these problems,” says Bernard, leader of the Kalwana Ebola Survivors’ Association. “With this new hope, we have been able to support one another by drawing on our collective experiences. That is how we came up with the idea of building a new house for Kamiyati, a fellow survivor who was living in a dilapidated home.”
While Kamiyati and her family will need more time to physically and mentally recover from the effects of the Ebola outbreak, through the support of the Survivors’ Program and her community, she believes there are reasons to be hopeful about her future.