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The #ISurvivedEbola app

Sella OnekoJanuary 6, 2015

What is life like after recovering from Ebola? Few beyond the survivors have any idea. A new campaign wants give them an opportunity to tell their stories via a newly created app.

Ebola-Überlebende Decontee Davis
Image: Morgana Wingard/Sarah Grile

Camara Fantaoulen, known as Fanta, tells her story in the latest video (see below). A sick cousin came to visit, and Fanta's family took him in. At that time, word about Ebola had not yet spread - the local treatment center had not yet been built.

Nine of her family members fell ill. Fanta watched as, one after the other, they passed away. She survived - just one of three.

Today she goes back to the Ebola ward to talk to patients, giving them the psychological support she hopes could in some way help them defeat the virus.

Fanta's story of survival is one not often heard in traditional media channels. Hers is part of a larger public health campaign by PCI Media Impact, which uses radio dramas, call-in programs, videos of survivors and stories to spread its message.

And now, it has an app.

The idea behind the #ISurvivedEbola app is that survivors use the custom-made software to post thoughts, upload photos and videos and share them with others. PCI Media Impact, the organization behind the initiative, then posts the information on its website and shares it via Facebook and Twitter.

The aim: to create a positive narrative in the midst of the daily reports of new infections, new tragedies a lack of adequate treatment for so many Ebola patients.

The latest data from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia records over 20,650 Ebola cases and over 8,100 deaths. There are, however, thousands of survivors who are trying to rebuild their lives after contracting the deadly disease.

The project

According to campaign manager JD Stier, #ISurvivedEbola was brought to life by PCI Media Impact staff who have been working in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia for several years. The project is being rolled out in collaboration with UNICEF and has received funding from the foundation of the Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen. The philanthropist has funded various research and media projects and has committed $100 million (84 million euros) to the fight against Ebola.

Thirty Ebola survivors - 10 from each affected country - have been selected to take part in the project.

"We have a diverse group of survivors, but they really represent survivors as a whole," Stier told DW.

Featured on the site, for example, is a young mother named Decontee (pictured top), a nurse named Abdul, and Aminata, a university student.

"We work with survivors who are leading survivor trainings, who are working in Ebola treatment centers," Stier said. "But we're also working with survivors who have cleared treatment and are going back to their daily lives."

Stigma and fear

Beyond connecting survivors, the initiative hopes to address the stigma and fear that still accompanies those who've made it out of the Ebola ward.

Reintegration is a key issue, said Rafael Obregon, a chief communications officers at UNICEF, in an interview with DW.

A study published by the government of Sierra Leone, UNICEF and other partners in August 2014 showed that 96 per cent of the households affected by Ebola felt discriminatory attitudes from others in their community.

Decontee the Liberian mother featured in the campaign, for instance, explains how her son was not allowed to play with the other children.

UNICEF'S Obregon, however, says the image of survivors is improving.

So far, Ebola survivors have proven to be resistant to the strain of the virus that has caused the current Ebola outbreak. Many have therefore dedicated their time to caring for the sick, digging graves or caring for the families affected by the disease.


But can an app used by 30 survivors really make a difference for Ebola survivors?

Brother Lothar Wagner, who works with the church run organization Don Bosco, which provides support to children who have lost their families to Ebola, says other priorities should take precedence.

He points to Sierra Leone 5,000 Ebola orphans. Many of those children are survivors themselves and are traumatized, he says, requiring psychologists and social workers to help them.

On top of that the country still lacks many of the basic facilities like enough beds for patients or laboratories for testing.

While the online campaign will no doubt mainly reach people in urban areas and areas outside the Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the call-in radio shows, as well as comic strips and printed material are supposed to reach out to those without Internet access. The main target group remains in the three countries, says Stier.

The new app was launched on Monday, January 5.