Matthew Nyanplu

Matthew Nyanplu is currently on a Peace Fellowship to Liberia, his home country, for The Advocacy Project. His peace fellowship is focusing on learning recovery lessons from survivors of the 2014-2016 Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak in Liberia to inform recovery and policy for persons and communities recovering from covid-19 in the global south. He is working with the National Ebola Survivors Network of Liberia to carry out his activities in the next three months. A graduate student in Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, Matthew has immense interest in pursuing justice for vulnerable populations and is excited that the AP opportunity enables him to do just that.

“Liberia may have moved on from EVD; but we never did,” Ebola Virus Disease survivor tells me.

18 Jun

In this week’s blog for my AP Fellowship in Monrovia: learning about the lives of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) survivors five years on, and what lessons their experiences can offer as the world prepares for life after coronavirus, I meet a survivor, an Economics graduate who lost his bank job and has since not secured a stable employment. Thanks for coming along.

It was late Thursday evening in Monrovia, June 17, I headed out to the field in a faraway community in the Brewerville area of Montserrado County to meet an EVD survivor to discuss what the crisis, five years on, has meant for them.

I met the person, a male in his forties (even though age is a sensitive issue, I estimate). He was enthusiastic and willing to talk to me. My first question to him was “Is there some person as an Ebola survivor in Liberia or have survivors moved on?”

He narrated, survivors have not moved on. “We face a myriad of issues including health complications, economic and social issues.” Common health issues include low vision, blindness, eye swinging, depression and other mental health disorders. Our friend whose name and exact location we are withholding for fear of stigmatization, confirms that his personal health complication is sudden eye-swinging.

Eye swinging is a feeling like low pressure which causes a sudden loss of balance that may cause a person to fall suddenly. Even though our friend tells us that he has been able to cope with the condition, life has been challenging for other survivors who have reported even worse complications. For instance, there are reports of male survivors who have become sterile, and women survivors who do not conceive or if they do conceive, experience sudden and persistent miscarriages.

In the aftermath of the EVD crisis or as the crisis waned, Liberia and US partners established the Partnership for Research on Ebola Vaccines in Liberia. Survivors are pretty much familiar with the acronym PREVAIL. The objective of the study was, among others, to learn about the effects of the Ebola Virus Disease on survivors, bring the issues identified to the Government and the scientific community, and create an avenue for continued support to survivors to help them navigate life after the bout with Ebola.

Our friend in this meeting tells me that they appreciate the uncovering of the myriad of issues identified during their participation in the study, and the avenues that were created for survivors to continuously receive medical support.

Several other partners have since been engaged with survivors in a variety of ways. WHO and the John Snow Inc are prominent. But survivors, as our friend tells me, feel that the Government of Liberia has neglected them. This neglect, our friend tells me, has had catastrophic consequences for them. There were survivors, he tells me, who experienced low vision or short-sightedness, whose conditions required continuous management.

But as the study ended and attention gradually shifted away, such survivors perpetually lost their vision. Today they have gone blind. Survivors, believe, that there have been great international goodwill to their cause and concerns, but their greatest disappointment is the lack of attention they have received from the Government. This is why, he tells me, that network solidarity is so strong; because only within their group they can find some kind of support.

Our friend narrated his personal stigmatizing experience when he contracted Ebola. He was a risk officer at  a local bank in Monrovia. His sister was a nurse working at a health facility in one of the suburbs of Monrovia, Banjor. This community, at one point in the crisis became a hotspot. The sister contracted the Ebola virus and made endless calls to the call center, at the time, for an ambulance to be dispatched to her location so that she could be taken to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU). Frustrated, she turned to her brother, our friend in this interview, who asked his chauffeur to drive his sister to the ETU.

Though, he tells me, that his vehicle was disinfected and left untouched for days, he would contract the virus through contact with this vehicle. Days later, he fell ill and informed his work place, the local bank. This was the end of his service with the bank. Upon recovery, our friend, went back to the bank to resume his regular activities because he had received no termination notice. He tells me that he was prevented from entering the bank and since then, his service ended. He tells me his story is symptomatic of experiences several hundreds of EVD survivors had with their work places, have not been recalled and continue to live the misery. His sister survived.

Our friend lost his relationship with his girlfriend because of his bout with Ebola and his two year old kid who contracted the virus through contact with him. He now has a new girlfriend whom he has not yet told that he is a survivor; and has concerns that she may be anxious any time she learns that he is a survivor. Again, his experience is symptomatic of the wider social relations issues facing survivors in Liberian communities.

He, at one point, had to leave Monrovia and travel to his home county Gbarpolu because the stigma, during and in the immediate aftermath of the EVD crisis was high. Even though he reports now that stigma against survivors has waned; but news about pandemics and infectious outbreaks like covid-19 or EVD resurgence, usually enliven their  EVD experiences and resurrects negative community reactions and suspicions against them.

Posted By Matthew Nyanplu

Posted Jun 18th, 2021


  • Iain Guest

    June 20, 2021


    Matthew – this is really interesting and complements Beliz’s blog from here in the US. The two of you will produce some great stuff in the weeks ahead. I’m just really pleased to begin to get a sense of that Ebola sufferers are still facing, after so many years. Some of the detail in here is quite shocking. For example, are you saying that people were the subject of the PREVAIL study and then went blind because no-one followed with them? That raises serious questions about the government policy, for sure. Let’s use this interview to figure out how to approach other survivors and build a comprehensive portrait of what Ebola has done to Liberians.

  • Matthew Nyanplu

    June 23, 2021


    Yes. People were part of the study and had these complications which required continuous support. As I have learned, medical support, in particular, was not forthcoming. Survivors were left to address these complications on their own and because the medical cost was prohibitive, some died reportedly and others became blind. I hope to follow these specific horrific cases during this period. Hoping to catch an interview with the blind survivor wherever he may be and the relatives of survivors who died as a result of these complications.

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