It’s only been a month since Liberia declared itself Ebola-free. Just when you think there is rest and respite, a woman walks into the small transit unit set up in the country’s capital Monrovia. She’s weak and is soon diagnosed positive with Ebola. She breaks down with the volunteer doctors from Medecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders. The disease has squirmed its way back – again.
It’s heart-wrenching, but for fieldworker Claire Waterhouse, every day is filled with disease and death, and the sorrow of families torn apart.
“It was so hard not to be able to go in there and comfort her or hug or do something to help. She died a few days later and I will never forget her face,” says Waterhouse.
Working in the Central African Republic (CAR), Waterhouse was called to action when Ebola hit Liberia. After working there for a couple of months, she moved to Guinea.
“Both countries were hard hit by poverty even before Ebola and had just been starting to progress, so to see the disappointment and heartbreak of normal citizens about yet another big setback in their development is really sad. It’s clearly a very personal struggle for people and of course a very scary time for them,” she says.
It’s harrowing. New cases feel like a personal failure; survivors struggle with post-traumatic stress, medical symptoms and have difficulties reintegrating; and doctors are unable to comfort patients without protective gear.
“After having Ebola, you become immune, so we often employed survivors to help comfort new patients and look after children who were sick. They were some of the bravest people I’ve ever met. They faced their worst nightmares by returning to the place where they had been so sick and seen so much death but they still came and helped us every day.
“One of the favorite parts of my job is I get to interact with lots of staff – ambulance drivers who tell you how terrified they are transporting sick people but who do it anyway because they want to help their country, nurses who tell you about their brothers and sisters who died from the disease but who kept working through their grief to try to save others,” she says.
The epidemic has taken a toll as the virus continues to spread.
“I see the full picture and get really worried if we’ll ever manage to beat Ebola. But I believe from the bottom of my heart that in the end, we will get there… we have to.”