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Ebola survivors in the three hardest-hit West African countries will have a new platform to share their stories, thanks to a mobile application set to be launched Monday as part of a UNICEF-backed campaign to inform and fight stigma around the disease.
The #ISurvivedEbola app, part of the #TackleEbola multimedia campaign launched by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and Vulcan Publications in collaboration with UNICEF, was unveiled this week in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia with a message sent by Camara “Fanta” Fantaoulen, an Ebola survivor from Guinea who lost six family members to the outbreak. The app connects to a web site where survivors can share their stories (including videos), connect with each other and talk about the challenges they still face.
“The app gives a human face to survivorship and has the potential to create a sense of community in which the survivors, rather than being stigmatized, become leaders and heroes in this fight,” Carole Tomko, general manager and creative director at Vulcan Productions, said in a press release. “The new digital components of the campaign extend our reach beyond West Africa, allowing these very moving, personal stories to be seen and heard globally.”
The social media campaign is the first to directly engage Ebola survivors in delivering key protective messages to affected communities, and to highlight stories of hope and resilience in the midst of the ongoing epidemic, which has killed over 8,000 people and infected more than 20,000, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Although many people have survived the disease, they still face rejection and stigma from their communities, while the virus continues to spread due to lack of information and denial, according to the WHO and other health organizations.
Health officials hope to use the new app to pass on public health information and collect data that can be tapped to better treat the disease. Each survivor in the three countries who has shared his or her story with campaign staff is being given a smart phone installed with the app.
“While treatment of Ebola patients is critical, the best way to end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is to cut the chain of transmission and prevent further infections,” Rafael Obregon of UNICEF said in a statement. “#ISurvivedEbola is reinforcing our efforts by providing [key] information in multiple, highly entertaining forms, including through the testimonies of actual survivors.”
In the first-ever message sent via the mobile app, Fanta, a young Ebola survivor from Guinea, stated in French, “Yes, I survived Ebola, thanks to the help of the brave healthcare workers who treated me. And I've learned that together, we can defeat this virus and protect our families and communities.”
After losing her father and five other family members to suspected or confirmed Ebola, Fanta believed her death was imminent when she tested positive for the virus. Thanks to a combination of early treatment, strict adherence to her treatment plan, and sheer determination, Fanta recovered from the virus and is now providing psychosocial support to Ebola patients and is among the nation's leading advocates for survivors of the disease. You can watch Fanta share her survivor story, titled “A Pillar of Strength and Support for Fellow Ebola Victims: Fanta's Story of Survival and Solidarity“, in the video below:
Campaign staff expect other survivors in all three countries to begin using the app within two weeks. The mobile app updates will be shared globally on the newly launched #ISurvivedEbola website.
The #TackleEbola campaign was launched in December 2014 with the web site, which featured a video from a Liberian survivor, and has since included stories from Sierra Leone and Guinea. The campaign has also kicked off an educational radio program in Liberia, and officials expect the mobile app to connect more survivors and healthcare workers in a format that appeals to many people.
Another Ebola app was launched last October by the International SOS, a leading medical and travel security Services Company. Ebola – What You Need to Know aims to empower individuals to learn about Ebola, “separating facts from fiction.” All information shared by the app is vetted by International SOS medical experts.
Experts say Ebola survivors could be crucial to ending the outbreak. In addition to providing important information and sharing valuable insider perspectives, survivors are considered immune to the virus and therefore can care for Ebola patients without the risk of becoming infected again. Survivors could also serve a vital role as blood donors; their antibodies may have protective properties and could also improve the chances of survival in those infected with Ebola.