Josephine Cole is a field agent for a medical claims management company. She lives in Freetown. She’s updated us on life and Ebola in Sierra Leone since 2014. You can follow Josephine’s journey in her October 2014 and January 2015 interviews with battleface.
Here’s the latest, with her images:
battleface: How are you and your family?
Josephine Cole: We are all doing perfectly well, by the special grace of God!!
bf: What’s changed since we last spoke?
JC: Some things have changed; like burial procedures. We have strict rules to follow now, some of our cultures and traditions have been reviewed, hugging and hand shaking were signs of love, respect and acceptance of visitors and strangers; these are hardly practiced now. Those who still do it, might do it out of forgetfulness, although there is still a small percentage of people who are in denial of the disease. People have become very aware that the toilet is a very crucial place these days, that one has to be very careful of how and where you use it. All corpses are being swabbed and results are demanded by the appropriate authorities before burial. Traditional birth attendants are discouraged from doing deliveries of pregnant women at home. Traditional healers also are discouraged from treating the sick but encourage them to go to the hospital. Health wise, a lot has changed! Frequent hand washing is encouraged in public places and homes. Health workers dress in scrub suits and boots instead of the ‘traditional’ nursing uniforms. Patients are thoroughly screened before allowed to enter the waiting area in the hospital. Now, one has to have permit from the police to conduct any event or ceremony that will attract large crowds of people. A lot has changed.
bf: What are you still waiting for?
JC: We are still waiting for a better economy. Cost of living escalated after the Ebola disease; we are waiting for an affordable cost of living, where the poorest family can be able to eat at least twice a day.
bf: Have kids stayed caught-up in school?
JC: Kids have gone back to school and schools are fully operational as before Ebola. A number of extraordinary measures were put in place, to keep the children safe. Although, the school terms have been altered because of the time lost, but everything is going on as normal. Sanitation and better water supply in schools are of priority to the government and proprietors. I expect the children will still be reminded of the health rules that will keep them safe.
bf: It’s early days, but have you seen tourists?
JC: People do come from other parts of the world to visit, either because of work or some other reason, but personally, I have not seen tourists. We have a lot of expartriates and foreigners around, both black and white but to say ‘tourists”, I have not seen or heard of any.
bf: How are the survivors and orphans treated?
JC: All work concerning survivors and orphans are being mainstreamed into the Ministry of Social Welfare. They are being categorized. NGO`S that work with these categories of people harmonize their efforts and resources to assist them. Registration and identification took longer than expected because there were people claiming to be survivors but were imposters. The Ministry is working on providing foster parents for the orphans. Some are still going through psycho-social counseling and the like. Other health institutions, like Sight Savers and Baptist Eye Clinic, offer free treatment to those survivors who experience eye defects.
In their different communities, they are accepted once more, no longer stigmatized as before, because different organizations did a lot of sensitization against stigmatization in these communities, on radio and television stations. The President himself visited survivors and orphans and took photos with them to show that they should not be stigmatize
ed, they have a right to live and not be stigmatizied.
bf: The disease was disastrous for the economy. How are you coping?
JC: It is really very difficult. A lot of people lost their jobs. In some families, both bread winners were left jobless, those who were a little fortunate had one person with a job after the outbreak; but even with that, it is really difficult on the citizens. The outbreak really crippled the economy. Some businesses have debts that they might not even recover or be able to pay back; some totally collapsed with very little or no hope of recovery. There is inflation, making cost of living unbearably high as compared to what people earn as “take home” that is, those who are fortunate to still have a job! It is very difficult for some families to even feed, but, we are a very resilient people, who trust in God and hope for the best.
bf: When we spoke in 2014, you mentioned that pregnant women and others in ‘non emergency’ situations had no access to health care. Any changes?
JC: Yes! there has been vast changes since WHO`S pronouncement. Like I mentioned earlier in the interview, patients are been properly screened before entering the waiting area of hospitals and clinics. Health workers take all necessary precautions in attending to the sick. The lost confidence and fear that existed between the health care providers and the patients have been restored; and so there is a large turnout of patients into hospitals and clinics now. Pregnant women feel free and confident to go into hospitals and clinics for follow ups and deliveries. The health care workers also feel safe to attend to the patients because they are sure of relative safety in their protective gears. Disposable PPE`S and gowns are used along with face shield and face mask, boots and the use of gloves is the most common procedure is over emphasized in hospitals. Frequent refresher courses and trainings are given to health workers. An Organization I.O.M. does frequent trainings of health personnel as the how to screen and monitor the screening process in health facilities.
bf: Sierra Leoneans are warm and friendly, they celebrated on that day. Will people go back to hugging and shaking hands any time soon?
JC: Well, like I mentioned earlier, hugging and hand shaking were a common practice in Sierra Leone before ebola. When the disease struck, those cultures ceased. Now, we have people who still shake hands, some do it out of forgetfulness, we still have a small percentage of people who are still in denial of the disease, so, for those, it is just ‘business as usual.’ I am not sure hand shaking and hugging will be a common sign of friendship and acceptance especially to those who were badly hit by the disease.
bf: What is your advice to someone coming to Sierra Leone to visit in the next few months?
JC: My advice will be: be very cautious with what you do. Avoid shaking hands and hugging people. Avoid any semblance of overcrowding for your own safety! Life has gone back to normal in Sierra Leone; but to observe the health rules is to stay safe!