Even though the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, which started in Guinea in the spring of 2014 and spread light wildfire across a number of West African countries, has markedly slowed, countries such as Sierra Leone are still struggling to contain the disease for good. Moreover, the long term effects on the country as it starts to recover from the epidemic are only just starting to become clear. There are thousands of orphaned children whose parents succumbed to Ebola. Food production in the countryside is lagging massively behind demand and up to 40% of farms in some of the worst affected areas are said to have been abandoned for fear of infection. A whole cohort of school aged children have missed out on an entire year of education since schools were closed in June 2014 and are only just starting to reopen. This outbreak of Ebola, a disease that was only identified in 1976, has been by far the deadliest, with the number of casualties, now standing at 10,159 being greater than all other outbreaks combined. Of these, over a third died in Sierra Leone, a country still struggling with the legacy of a brutal civil war from 1991 until 2002 which claimed the lives of an estimated 50,000 people. Western aid and medical assistance, arriving in lurches and unpredictably, meant that most of the burden of dealing with the outbreak fell to local health services, many of which were under-resourced at the best of times. Over 100 health workers are known to have died as a result of their work with Ebola patients.
As the news agenda has well and truly moved on to conflicts and crises in other parts of the world and with the slow down in the spread of Ebola, Sierra Leone and other countries that have been affected by the outbreak must now face the slow and difficult task of rebuilding their economies and health systems. With all attention focused on Ebola, the vital tasks of immunising against diseases like malaria and other scourges affecting the region have fallen behind and must now once again catch up. Espen Rasmussen visited Freetown, the capital, and a number of other areas of Sierra Leone and found a country traumatised, yet cautiously optimistic and grateful for the end of a dark chapter in its history.