Survivor tales: How I beat Ebola virus

ebola virus

Goodwill Mpanga and his wife at their home in Bundibugyo District.

Photo credit: Daily Monitor

What you need to know:

  • At the time, there was no vaccine for Ebola. Health workers only treated Ebola symptoms. 
  • When he was discharged, he was only given antibiotic drugs.
  • Doctors also instructed him to abstain from sex for six months because the virus could still be in his semen.

Goodwill Mpanga has travelled to hell and back, battling the Ebola virus.

The 63-year-old accountant, a resident of Mukundungu Village in Bundibugyo District, is among survivors of the haemorrhagic fever that is ravaging Uganda.

Mpanga contracted the Zaire strain of the virus in December 2007. He says he got Ebola at the burial of his brother-in-law, who died shortly after testing positive for the disease.

“After the burial of my brother-in-law, I slept at his place. On the first day, I developed body pain and I became weak. The following morning, the situation worsened so I decided to go back home,” he says. 

On his way home, his skin darkened and he had a high fever.

“On December 7, I could not move out of my house. My brother Elisa Mumbere Kayembe took me to Bundibugyo hospital,” he says.

At the hospital, he was first taken to the outpatient department. He met a team of doctors from the World Health Organisation, who tested him and confirmed that he had Ebola.

He was taken to an isolation centre, where he found some of the people he was with at the burial of his brother-in-law. Shortly after this, he lost consciousness. He woke up three days later.

“I spent seven days in the isolation centre. In our isolation room, there were 10 people, but by the time I left, six had died. Whenever someone died, I would think that I was next,” he says. 

At the time, there was no vaccine for Ebola. Health workers only treated Ebola symptoms.

“We were given many antibiotics whose names I cannot remember. I was also taking local herbs,” he says.

Doctors also encouraged them to eat local food such as matooke and posho.

“The doctors would ensure that every day I took my drugs on time,” he says.

After seven days in the isolation centre, he asked the doctors to discharge him because he had regained energy although he had not fully recovered.

When he was discharged, he was only given antibiotic drugs. It took another month for him to fully recover.

“When I came back home, I still had body pain and was still weak with side effects. I lost my memory and my testicles reduced in size. Doctors from Bundibugyo hospital and Kampala kept monitoring me every week,” he says.

He says he exercised every morning.

Doctors also instructed him to abstain from sex for six months because the virus could still be in his semen.

He says his daughter, who was five at the time, also developed similar signs and symptoms after he returned home and spent four days in hospital. She later tested negative.

Mpanga says that on his way home, he stopped at a trading centre but people ran away from him.

“People refused to come close to me. The doctor I had travelled with convinced them to come closer but they all declined,” he says.

For the first two weeks at home, no one visited him. He decided to limit his movements in the community, saying whenever locals would see him, they would whisper to each other that he was an Ebola survivor. 

He adds that people did not want to line up with him at the bank.

Mpanga advises people that if they develop signs and symptoms of Ebola, they should visit a hospital for testing.

“Back then, people did not believe it was Ebola. Instead, they said it was witchcraft. People discouraged others from going to the hospital and that is why we lost many people. I have told people that seeking medical advice is key,” he says.

His wife, Ms Naume Mpanga, 58, says when her husband was diagnosed with Ebola she thought he would die.

“Although I was nursing my brother who died of Ebola, I became scared when people told me that my husband had Ebola. One day I requested the doctors to put me in an isolation room because I had developed a fever, but they refused,” she says.

Ms Naume says that at home, she ensured that food was always provided on time. After two weeks, people started visiting the family and supported them financially.

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