Ebola survivor beat disease only to be left by husband and ostracised because of stigma

Siannie Beyan: 'They were disappointed to see me back to life. Perhaps they were wishing for me to die'

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An Ebola survivor has told of the devastating impact the disease had on her life, with stigma in the community seeing her husband abandoning her and leaving their children homeless.

Siannie Beyan contracted the deadly virus at the peak of the outbreak in Liberia in August. She fought for her life for three weeks in isolation, not realising that was only the start of her struggle.

During her time in hospital in the capital, Monrovia, her husband moved out of their home in Bong County and left their two children, both under 10 years old, to fend for themselves.

The stigma surrounding Ebola meant neighbours stayed away for fear of contracting the disease, despite the children showing no sign of illness.

A woman reacts after her husband is suspected of dying from the Ebola virus in the Liberian capital Monrovia

Even Ms Beyan’s own mother would not take her grandchildren in at first but later started to take them food and visited them every day.

When she was released from hospital after testing negative for Ebola in September, Ms Beyan said she “rejoiced” to go home.

But when she arrived there, her landlord was waiting to stop her going inside.

“He still feared I had Ebola,” she said. “I had paid rent for a year and still had four months left to go, but he refunded me and asked me to leave. He would not hear anything I had to say.” 

Ebola patients sit inside the Island Clinic Treatment center, where they are kept under quarantine, in Monrovia, Liberia

Ms Beyan’s mother was soon threatened with eviction when she then took them to stay with her, with neighbours fearing she could still transmit the disease.

“The landlord threatened to expel my mother if she did not make me go. But I really had nowhere I could go,” she said. “My mother locked us up in her room and had to lie to her landlord and neighbours.”

With no help from her absent husband, Ms Beyan and her children spent a month in hiding before money from a local organisation for Ebola survivors allowed them to re-start their lives.

When they rented a new home, she invited her partner back but he refused.

“He no longer wants any relationship between us. I am single, left alone to care for my children. I feel sad,” she said.

“I never imagined my partner and community could reject me after surviving Ebola, when I needed them the most.

“They were disappointed to see me back to life. Perhaps they were wishing for me to die. It will take me time to forgive and forget.”

Liberians read a daily Ebola noticeboard in Monrovia

Ms Beyan has since started to work for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) as a psychosocial assistant at its Ebola Management Centre in Monrovia.

Despite the hardship, she counts herself as one of the lucky ones.

She said: “I contracted Ebola and survived. I now help others to survive Ebola. I am happy I survived.”

A spokesperson for MSF said her experience is shared by many people treated for the disease, which is having continuing repercussions even in communities where the spread its being controlled.

An Ebola sign placed infront of a home in West Point slum area of Monrovia, Liberia

“These are people who should be hailed as heroes but they are being shunned and ostracised,” she added.

Despite government campaigns attempting to diminish the prejudice faced by Ebola survivors, some are branded as “witches” or forced to move away from their home villages.

For many, the faces they longed to see again while lying in the Ebola ward are no longer there – husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers all carried off to unmarked graves by the virus.

Ebola has so far killed almost 9,000 people in 22,500 known cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.