Twenty-two-year old Jhalia Nassiwa is one of the 87 survivors of the recent outbreak of Ebola Viral Disease that was declared by the World Health Organization and authorities in Uganda last month.
While for many life has returned to normal, treatment centers closed and health workers returned to their pre-outbreak schedules, Nassiwa’s told URN that life has since been dented, unable to breastfeed her only son or perform her other marital functions.
Once she tested positive for the hemorrhagic disease, Nassiwa a resident of Kikandwa in Kassanda district had to be ferried all the way to Mubende district for treatment as the Ministry of Health had not yet established a treatment unit in her area by then.
She could only return home months later to a whole new set of precautions that include not having unprotected sex and not breastfeeding. The mother tells URN that the absence of sex has now turned her home into a haven of violence as the husband has failed to respect the guideline of either abstaining from sex or using condoms.
As a consequence, the unemployed mother has to fend for herself since the husband decreed that offering the family food would only return only if his conjugal rights are returned. For now, all Nassiwa can’t guarantee as a bit of feeding for the family is the breast milk supplements donated by the global children’s body UNICEF.
Health experts discourage Ebola survivors from having unprotected for about six months as that is when they are sure that the virus has completely been eliminated from the body. They also discourage breastfeeding for that period but according to Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, it’s safest to wait for a year in order to guarantee complete healing.
She said while these people were offered a negativity certificate at discharge, the virus can be undetectable but still be hidden somewhere in the body.
According to Dr Sarah Parge, the USAID Health Security Agenda Advisor for Uganda, it is because of such reasons that stakeholders resolved to set up a robust survivors programme to be able to arrest such cases in a timely manner in case they arise.
She says like Nassiwa, there are two other breastfeeding mothers being followed up and their milk samples are picked every three days for testing.
Parge says apart from the stigma and other psychosocial problems that survivors face when they return to the community, they also have to grapple with post-illness clinical symptoms such as headaches and body pains. She says this is the reason a lot has to go on especially in the epicenter districts to ensure that survivors are properly incorporated back into their communities.
Meanwhile, according to Aceng, their survivors’ clinic has taken all that into account and have deployed counselors to help survivors like Nassiwa who are still grappling with psychosocial challenges.