Africa

Moving legacy of Ebola worker who died saving children

Augustine Baker (file photo)
Image caption At the height of the Ebola crisis Augustine Baker would go into high-risk communities to help children who had been orphaned by the disease

BBC Global Health Correspondent Tulip Mazumdar returns to Sierra Leone to assess the legacy of health worker Augustine Baker, who died in the fight against the Ebola virus.

Ebola has left more than 18,000 children in West Africa without one or both parents, according to Unicef (the UN children's fund).

More than 8,000 of them are in Sierra Leone, where the number of new cases has been falling dramatically in recent months.

But challenges remain in re-integrating some orphaned children back into their communities, as I saw on my return to the UK-run St George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown, six months after my first visit.

It is hard to miss. The bright yellow building, set back from the main road, has housed hundreds of children who have lost parents to Ebola since the start of the outbreak.

Tracing the Ebola outbreak

'Deeply felt loss'

As I walk in, I am greeted by social workers that I did not meet last time I was here. The man I met then was Augustine Baker. He has since died of Ebola. The virus also claimed the life of his wife, Margaret. Their three small children are now Ebola orphans.

Image caption Ebola has killed thousands of children in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea
Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSome of the children who survived the disease are now stigmatised, as Tulip Mazumdar reports
Image caption Augustine's children are now being looked after by Juliet, their grandmother

"He sacrificed his life working for children," said Isatu Kamara, a social worker at the orphanage who was mentored by Augustine.

"We feel the loss so deeply. His own children have become orphans now. We just feel so [sad]."

Augustine's children, the youngest just one year old, are now being cared for by their grandmother.

I meet Augustine's mother at the orphanage. She is a formidable, graceful woman, but she looks deflated and exhausted.

"When I remember my son, I always cry. It was such a sudden death." says Juliet.

"He was a gentleman."

Augustine collapsed during an office meeting at the orphanage in February. After his death, the entire centre had to be quarantined for three weeks. Thankfully, no one else was infected.

"It's been difficult for us to continue," says Isatu Kamara, "but we can't just leave all these cases.

"Augustine is dead but we must still continue to work for the children."

Augustine Baker and the human cost of Ebola

Rejection

Unicef estimates that 8,619 children have lost one or both parents to Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Image caption Children orphaned by Ebola are being shunned by their communities who fear they may bring the disease back with them
Image caption Augustine Baker's family are proud of the brave role he played in fighting Ebola before his death in February
Image copyright AP
Image caption The orphanage was set up in 2004 and, until the Ebola outbreak, was mainly concerned with rescuing street children

It says that the vast majority of them are able to go back into their communities and are cared for by their extended families.

But many of these already poor families are struggling to feed the extra mouths.

When I last visited the orphanage, there were about 50 children being cared for. Now there are about 20.

With new cases of the virus down to around 10 a week in Sierra Leone, the focus has switched from finding Ebola orphans to ensuring those placed back in their communities are being cared for properly.

There is still a great deal of fear and suspicion around survivors.

"We have been having cases of children being rejected from their communities. They have been been stigmatised, especially children who survived Ebola," said Isatu Kamara.

"People are scared of them... They just don't trust that these children are okay now and they can touch them and go near them, so they push [the children] far away from them."

It was this sort of work to which Augustine Baker dedicated the final months of his life.

Augustine's mother says she will make sure his children understand what their father did for Sierra Leone.

"I will tell them," she said. "They will be very proud."

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