DAKAR, June 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who survived Ebola after caring for patients in Sierra Leone, spoke on Thursday of the psychological toll on survivors and children orphaned by the virus following her first return to the West African nation.
The 41-year-old nurse contracted the disease in December 2014 at the height of an Ebola epidemic which swept through three countries in West Africa and killed more than 11,300 people.
Cafferkey, who now works as a nurse in Scotland, returned to Sierra Leone last month, for the first time since being infected, to meet Ebola survivors and orphans - some of whom she treated - and raise funds for the British charity Street Child.
“What was emotional was meeting Ebola survivors and orphans and seeing how they don’t have the luxury of moving on,” Cafferkey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
“The psychological impact is something no-one talks about but it is so clearly evident ... people are by no means over Ebola as it has clearly left an immense scar (on Sierra Leone).”
Cafferkey completed a 10 km (6.2 mile) run last month as part of an annual marathon in Sierra Leone organised by Street Child to raise money for children hit hardest by Ebola.
Some 12,000 children were orphaned in Sierra Leone by the virus, 1,400 of whom need urgent support, Street Child said.
“Thousands of Ebola orphans ... are desperately struggling,” Tom Dannatt, head of Street Child, said in a statement. “They may have a roof over their heads but they are last in the line for food and school - especially if they are a girl,” he added.
The world’s worst Ebola outbreak, which was declared over last year, killed at least 11,300 people and infected 28,600 as it swept through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea from 2013.
The first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in Britain, Cafferkey suffered life-threatening complications from the deadly disease persisting in her brain, and has been readmitted to hospital several times with illness linked to the infection.
She also faced disciplinary action over allegations she concealed her temperature on her return from Sierra Leone, but was cleared by a British nursing watchdog last September.
Yet Cafferkey said returning to the country after what she called a tough couple of years had helped her to move on.
"Before I went to Sierra Leone, I didn't know what to expect," she said. "I'm glad I came back, it has been emotional but it has helped to give me closure." (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)