On December 26, 2013, a young boy in Guinea, now known as Patient Zero, fell mysteriously ill and died two days later. It was not until just over three months after this first case that the chain of transmission was traced and the first Ebola outbreak to hit West Africa was confirmed.
The news of the Ebola outbreak was initially met with widespread suspicion in Guinea. At that point, few Guineans had even heard of Ebola, and the virus was mainly affecting only a remote part of the country. Mistrust in government and the fact that Ebola’s early symptoms mimic those of other illnesses common in West Africa led many Guineans to initially doubt – and even deny – that Ebola existed. Marie Clare Tchecola was not one of them.
A seasoned nurse in the Emergency Unit at Donka Hospital, Marie Claire was an Ebola believer long before she contracted the virus from a patient who, unbeknownst to her, was infected. Ten days after treating the patient, Marie Claire began experiencing the infamous symptoms herself. When her lab test came back Ebola-positive, the frequent fear that “Ebola means death” initially overshadowed any hope Marie Claire had for survival. But when she saw others recovering from the virus in the treatment center where she was admitted, her fears dissipated, and she began to think that she, too, might make it.
The survival of others encouraged Marie Claire to fight Ebola. Since recovering, she has emerged as a leading advocate for early treatment and a strong voice countering the doubts some Guineans still hold. “A lot of people still don’t believe Ebola truly exists. We should raise awareness about the situation, never give up, and explain to [non-believers] how difficult the situation is," she says. A long-time nurse and a recently-born advocate, Marie Claire is now saving lives in both her profession and her voluntary awareness efforts.