The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has already taken more than 3,000 lives. There is no effective vaccine or treatment for the disease, and fatality rates range from 25 percent to as high as 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Korlia Bonarwolo, a physician’s assistant in the Liberian capital Monrovia, is one of the survivors. He told his story to Global Journalist’s Pablo Gabilondo.
Global Journalist: How did you contract Ebola?
Bonarwolo: I contracted this virus from the hospital where I work. I came into contact with an infected nurse while doing [a] physical exam…and I wasn’t actually protected at that time. After a while, she died of the virus and I was…[experiencing] weight loss myself since I was having the symptoms of the virus, and that’s how I reported myself so that I could get help.
Global Journalist: What were the first physical symptoms that you felt?
Bonarwolo: Well, initially, I didn’t really [think] right away that it was Ebola, but it first of all started with fever, very high fever…and later on I started having weakness and joint pains….Bear in mind that I was a “possible,” that is I came into contact with somebody that died of the virus. That also like crept to my mind that I have it too. I thought it wise to just report myself to the center so that all of these tests can actually be done, whether it was malaria or Ebola, or whatever case.
Global Journalist: How long were you sick for?
Bonarwolo: I was actually in the center for three weeks.
Global Journalist: And what was the worst part of all these?
Bonarwolo: The worst was actually the first week. I have a lot of diarrhea and it was actually, you know, work… I was like vomiting excessively. The frequency was like more than five, six, seven times in high volume. And I start having this extreme weakness and chills and hiccup. I was like extremely weak, actually. I felt too pale at that initial stage especially in the first week of my illness.
Global Journalist: How did you feel emotionally?
Bonarwolo: Well, emotionally I was very depressed…I mean I was depressed to the point that I actually wanted to die because of what I was going through. I thought at that time dying was like the best way out, because I went through a lot of problems [on my chest and vomiting on myself.] I just have to pray to God, and give God, you know everything that he could just do his best for me.
Global Journalist: So what motivated you to continue fighting while you were in the hospital?
Bonarwolo: The second week, I started having some courage. I starting having faith because I was receiving some calls while I was in the center, and people were praying for me and always [calling] me to encourage me that things will be better, things will be okay, God is in control. So all of these thoughts actually helped me and also gave me the courage and the faith to look up to God.
So from that point, I just decided to give myself the courage and try to do some little exercises like moving around. [It gave] me a lot of strength because I [didn’t] even have the appetite. There’s no appetite within, but I [had] to encourage myself, I had to give myself the courage to actually push through this kind of situation.
So I believe that at that time I have God to really cure me and to help me to get out of this situation. So I denounced the side of the devil and announced that Jesus will help me.
Global Journalist: What happened when you got better?
Bonarwolo: I was actually welcomed by my family. Some of my friends actually also were with me, and some of my church members.
Not everybody actually welcomed me. The people were like skeptical [of] me. Even the common ground, they have to stand at a distance. We all try to tell ourselves the preventive measures…avoiding touching, you know, and, continually wash your hands, and we just live with each other happily.
Global Journalist: Could you please tell me a little bit about this stigma that Ebola survivor suffer?
Bonarwolo: They have been highly stigmatized in their community in which they live and they have to move to another community....
Survivors are safe and they are free, and they can do go about doing their businesses. They need to be actually welcomed, you know, given some level of psychosocial or psychological support, like counseling them. Like some people at times providing some basic needs for them to help them at least overcome the stress in what they were going through.
Global Journalist: Now you are working with Ebola cases. What message do you want to share with others?
Bonarwolo: Well, the message is for all to do those safe practices like avoiding, you know, touching the [infected] people or somebody who is actually showing signs of the symptoms of the virus. Also, avoid grieving, washing or burying the dead, especially if you’re going to move the corpse.