Spend less than a day in Sierra Leone and you’ll hear gut-wrenching stories of loss from people whose lives were decimated by the often-fatal Ebola: Mary lost her father, along with seven brothers and sisters, an aunt, and an uncle to the virus. Conteh Mabinty contracted the disease from her husband and then passed it on to their 3-year-old daughter, who died of the disease.
Now, two years after the crisis, "Ebola orphans" — children who lost both parents in the crisis — wander their villages, hoping to find surrogate parents to take them in.
It is estimated that more than 14,000 Sierra Leoneans were infected during the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak. More than 3,500 lost their lives, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first confirmed case in Freetown, the country's capital, was reported to the World Health Organization
(WHO) just over two years ago, on June 23, 2014.
Ebola spread virulently through Sierra Leone for a number of reasons. The country had never experienced an Ebola outbreak and its health infrastructure, already compromised by a protracted civil war, was unprepared to respond, Stacey Mearns,
health coordinator for the International Rescue Committee, explained.
Then, frontline health-care workers inadvertently helped the Ebola virus spread more quickly throughout Sierra Leone. Nearly 7% of all health-care workers there died from Ebola, according to a study
by the World Bank.
"There was a real lack of training and education about health-care workers as to how to protect themselves," said Rachel Hall, a program manager with humanitarian organization CARE. "So, they would contract it, then travel to a new community to help, unknowingly bringing the disease with them. Members of these communities began to think, These [health workers] are bringing sickness into our homes
, and they started viewing hospitals and clinics as sources of disease."
The unfortunate fallout was that people avoided seeking help at health centers when they began showing signs of Ebola.
Today, Sierra Leone is Ebola-free
, but those who survived continue to battle community-wide stigma and often have to deal with crippling physical symptoms
, such as headaches, joint pain, vision problems, and other chronic health issues.
Ahead, some of the women affected by the Ebola crisis share their stories with Refinery29.
Caption: Kamara Dorgbo lost her husband to Ebola.
Editor's note: Leslie Goldman reported this story during a learning tour to Sierra Leone sponsored by nonprofit organization CARE.