Alex Senfuka, 20, resides in Kalwana Village, Kassanda District. He is a motorbike (boda-boda) rider and member of the Kalwana Ebola Survivors’ Association. The association is made up of 14 people who have survived the Ebola Disease and have gone through similar experiences to overcome their distress and loss. This has created a close bond among them, but their closeness dates back to when the Ugandan government announced that there was an outbreak of Ebola disease in the neighbouring district of Mubende on September 20, 2022.
After being discharged from the Ebola Treatment Unit, the survivors had to deal with stigma and discrimination in their hometown. “No one approached or engaged with us. The restaurants refused to provide us any food, so we turned to one other for comfort. We would gather at the clinic of our fellow survivor who is a certified nurse and talk about our experiences and he would also prepare for us food,” narrates Alex.
Thankfully, a team of counsellors began making individual visits to every one of them, including survivors who lacked the confidence to leave their homes. They offered psychosocial support to survivors and trained community members, including survivors, local leaders, and other community members, to raise awareness of the Ebola virus and enlist their assistance in reintegrating survivors into the community. “Owing to the close interactions, discussions and sensitization sessions that the counsellors held with us and our communities, the community eventually believed that we were free of the Ebola Virus and accepted us back into the community,” says a delighted Alex.
The team is part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported National Ebola Survivors’ Program that is implemented by Baylor Uganda in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. The program provides Ebola survivors with mental health and psychosocial support services in their communities. Additionally, they have worked with the Ministry of Health to set up of Ebola survivor clinics in Mubende RRH, Entebbe Hospital and planning to set up another in Alex’s district Kassanda. The Ebola survivors received clinical care and specialized medical evaluations of Ebola related health issues, such as headaches, scrotal issues, eye issues, joint pains, body weakness, and muscle pain at these clinics.
“Every time they came to our village, they would meet us at the clinic or one of us would mobilize the group for a therapy session with the counselors,” says Alex. The meetings strengthened the group’s bonds and paved the way for the creation of Kalwana Ebola Survivors’ Association and a peer support group. “In this group, whether we were alone or with the counselors, we spoke about topics that affected us and came up with workable solutions,” adds Alex. One of these solutions came in the form of constructing a home for a 24-year-old Ebola survivor with nine children. She had lost her spouse to Ebola and was residing in a run-down house. With their limited funds, they purchased timber and other building supplies and put up a structure of a bigger house. They are currently moulding the mud and wattle house to ensure that she enters it before the end of the year.
“We want to express our gratitude to all the medical professionals that helped us. We really value the psychosocial team’s work in raising awareness in our neighbourhoods and helping us reclaim our lives,” says Alex, who also expresses gratitude for the specialized care they are getting from the National Ebola Virus Diseases Program. The initiative has helped 87 survivors, including the Kalwana Ebola Survivors’ Association group members, with medical care, psychosocial support, mental health, and ongoing support for their social reintegration.
Baylor-Uganda’s Global Health Security (GHS) Program works with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and other partners to improve health security and build International Health Regulations core capacities in the Republic of Uganda. The program operates at the national, subnational levels (covering four regions of Rwenzori, Bunyoro, Soroti and Kampala) health facility and community levels and has contributed to strengthening country-level capacity to prevent and detect and respond to public health threats of national and international concern. Our GHS capacity is distinctive in Uganda, covering rural and rural settings across five action packages under the global health security agenda (GHSA), including 1) Public Health surveillance, 2) National Laboratory Systems, 3) Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) prevention and control; 4) Border Health Security/ Points of Entry (POE); 5) Public health emergency preparedness and response.