Ebola is More Than a News Story to Me


By Yabome Gilpin-Jackson | Twitter: @supportdevelop

SierraLeone-750Ebola is more than just another news story to me.

“What can be worse than watching your child wasting away from the Ebola virus, and not being able to comfort her with a touch, or care for her directly?”

This question haunts me.

Unimaginable pain, unbelievable heartache, unspeakable torture. It’s the plight of parents in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, at this very moment. Since the official start of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea in March, there are now 6,500+ confirmed cases and over 3,000 deaths. Each death represents someone’s beautiful baby boy or girl. I cannot retreat from the despair rising in me.

Ebola is much too close to home.

I was born to Sierra Leonean parents while they were working in Germany and I lived in the West African coastal country between the ages of 5 and 20. I am also a naturalized Canadian having immigrated here because of another crisis in Sierra Leone–the civil war of the 1990s and early 2000s–and because our family has a Canadian history. My parents lived and had three children in Edmonton while my father was a graduate student at the University of Alberta. So I consider myself a global citizen, and predominantly a Sierra Leonean-Canadian. I am deeply connected to all things Sierra Leone and consider the development of the African continent part of my life’s purpose.

When I see photos in the paper of children, like two-year old Bintu whose parents have both been diagnosed with Ebola, I see my own two-year old son. My heart sinks to the bottom of my ribcage and seems to keep dropping.

I am a professional serving in the Canadian healthcare system. So, when I see the photo of the beautiful 25-year-old nurse Justina, who died after treating the first Ebola patient in Nigeria, the fog around me thickens. I think about the countless resources required every “winter surge,” our healthcare label for the flu season in Canada. Yet every year, there are still flu cases and fatalities. Then I imagine what it must be like in the West African nations currently battling Ebola, nations that are year after year named within the world’s poorest economically, with struggling health systems and some of the worst global health outcomes.

Their relative poverty (another cause for an exasperated, incomprehensible, rhetorical question!) is, for example, why over 60% of deaths in Sierra Leone result from preventable communicable diseases. Like Ebola. There are not enough resources to take the measures needed to quarantine and eradicate the virus, so it keeps spreading. It’s been at least 180 days and counting. There needs to be 42 days without a new case of Ebola for the outbreak to be declared over. And Nigeria and Senegal where there have been 21 cases as a result of someone with Ebola travelling there, are close to seeing the end of those days.

The ongoing impacts of the Ebola outbreak, like food shortages and threats of violence and civil rights violations, is why my Facebook status one day was simply “My heart aches.”

My brother-in-law, living in Freetown, Sierra Leone, tells us how Ebola is visibly changing life is Freetown. People go about their daily business wearing masks. Public gatherings are all but non-existent. A community that thrives in handshakes, touching and being in each other’s spaces are learning that for the moment at least, they must invent “Ebola greetings” that entail none of the above.

And for children, normalcy is suspended. Schools are closed indefinitely. There have been no birthday parties, no playdates. Some are being uprooted, if their families can afford it, to go elsewhere for school. And those with parents and communities who are facing the reality of Ebola are teaching their children a confusing and contradictory message–“don’t touch people.” Because Ebola spreads on contact with the bodily fluids of those it has touched, this unwelcome virus is risking the very core of our humanity–human touch and connection.

Not A Single Story

My heart aches, because the poverty numbers and the Ebola stories, tell nothing of the people with a rich socio-economic history and culture. It says nothing of the beautiful tourist destination where I grew up with some of the most beautiful beaches. Very few know the time in the 1980s when my father came home rejoicing because of his role in economic policy reforms that resulted in our currency hitting par with the US dollar and UK pound. The current Ebola news dominates other important numbers of hope. Like the fact that the West African region of 300,000,000 people, is also the largest economic block on the continent, making it a potential economic goldmine for the region and globally. And in regard to Ebola, the fact that MSF reports at least 650 people have recovered in their care. That includes the 22-month-old girl, Isata, who according to history and statistics had zero chance of surviving the virus. All 650, someone’s beautiful baby boy or girl. Precious, miraculously healed lives.

So, in spite of my sinking heart, and in spite of the fog, this is not a sob story. This is a call to action–because Sierra Leoneans, Liberians, Guineans and Nigerians need hope, not pity and more than sympathetic bystanders. They need reassurance that the world cares about theirs and our collective health.

So, I am trading despair for a focus on hope and action. Hope that we will get to 42 days Ebola-free. And I am joining the action. Will you consider joining me?

  • Donate to efforts to STOP EBOLA NOW! Here are my favorite picks:
    • Doctors without Borders (MSF), because they are most experienced at working with and treating the Ebola virus and are asking for help.
    • Sierra Leone Action, because they are taking an evidence-based and progressive approach to pioneer treatment for Ebola using convalescent serum therapy (survivors’ blood serum and whole blood transfusions).
    •  HOPE Academy for Girls, because they are taking on a public and community health approach (hand-washing stations) to curb the spread of the virus.
  • Self-organize by:
    • Hosting a fundraiser with your friends and family,
    • Raising awareness by sharing information about what is happening to any and all. That always sparks new ideas and ways to help!

In the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

That’s my hope.


About Yabome: 

yabomeMy name means woman … I love the obvious simplicity and profound impact of carrying that name. It’s a name ascribed to the wisdom of an older woman, an elder, and was my grandmother’s. On top of that, my mom meant to also name me Satia, meaning satiated, full to abundance. It is her favorite cousin’s name, infused with the double entendre of a woman overflowing with the joy and blessing of having had me, her 7th biological child. So what can I say about me? I am a woman, seeking after wisdom, determined to live life to the fullest and help, in whatever way I can, others in the world to do so also. I believe in and love God. I am also a wife, mother of 3, academic, working professional, consultant and budding author. I love learning, new experiences…and fashion. I, Yabome (Satia) Gilpin-Jackson am who I was born to be…and I am (re)discovering that daily.


Image credit: Cliff James