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Ebola Family Portraits

Photographer: Ahmed Jallanzo

 

The deadly Ebola virus that plagued West Africa in 2014 and 2015 has been stopped but the ramifications of its devastation will be felt forever in the lives of loved ones left behind. Liberia’s first two cases of Ebola were confirmed and recorded on March 30th, 2014 from the provincial town of Foya, in Lofa County near the border with Guinea.

 

Liberia along with Sierra Leone and Guinea is one of the three West African states hardest hit by the Ebola virus with more than 10,600 Ebola cases recorded and more than 4,800 deaths. According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, Liberia now has more than 4000 Ebola survivors. Ebola survivor’s clinic are currently busy treating post-Ebola symptoms such as joint pains, dizziness, blurred vision and impaired concentration. These are some of the main physical symptoms. Psychologically there is much work still to be done.

 

Even though Liberia has been declared Ebola free many Liberians still maintain the culture of hand washing as a proper hygiene defence against the disease whilst others are not observing the preventive measures at all. There are still chlorinated water buckets placed in public buildings, businesses, homes and religious centres around the capital Monrovia and in many other parts of the country.

 

During the outbreak, Liberians clashed with a burial team trying to bury 22 bodies in their community and the government ordered all corpses of those who died to be cremated. The cremation of the dead is completely alien to the Liberian cultural and traditional practices of disposing of the dead but was necessary for the obvious health risk the corpses posed. This was one example of the complex pressures Ebola placed on the countries customs and traditional practices. The devastating Ebola outbreak exposed the weak health care system in Liberia that was compromised further after 14 years of civil war.

 

Liberia has been declared Ebola free three times by the World health Organization (WHO), on May 9th, September 3rd, 2015 and January 14th, 2016. Finally, it seems the epidemic has been beaten but for the families of those that lost loved ones, the battle is only in its infancy. Thousands of families have been ripped apart in an indiscriminate and brutal way with the disease often claiming the primary income provider for the family. A generation of those affected with thousands of orphans has also developed and the country has many years of rehabilitation ahead of it.

 

The shock waves of the disease have rippled through all parts of the culture, customs and economy. For months, Liberians were not able to touch each other for fear of spreading the disease. The burial rituals were altered and the normal functioning of society changed. Now in its wake, a nation struggling to emerge from 14 years of brutal civil war now has a new challenge to overcome. But the residents of the 'Land of the Free' are tough and resilient with a rich history of overcoming terrible hardships in the former United States colony.