Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey: return to Sierra Leone will give me closure
Pauline Cafferkey, the Scottish nurse who nearly died twice from Ebola, has said she is seeking “closure” as she announced plans to return to Sierra Leone for the first time since contracting the disease there.
She said the trip next month was to raise funds for children orphaned by the disease and would give her “closure in a positive way”.
Cafferkey, 41, became the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the UK after returning from Sierra Leone where she had worked as a volunteer in December 2014.
But her return to the UK has been far from straightforward. The nurse has been admitted to hospital four times over fears of a recurrence of the deadly disease; and a series of disciplinary hearings have followed from an incorrect temperature taken from Cafferkey at Heathrow when she returned from the west African country in December 2014.
Now working as a health visitor support nurse in South Lanarkshire, in Scotland, she is returning to Sierra Leone – where Ebola has since been eradicated – to raise funds for the charity Street Child.
Cafferkey told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme it would be “psychologically important for me to go back”. “That’s where things started for me and I’ve had a terrible couple of years since then, so it’d be good to go back and have things come full circle for me,” she said.
“It’ll be a little bit of closure, and I want to end it with something good, something positive.”
Street Child provides shelter and education for homeless children, and estimates that 12,000 children were orphaned in Sierra Leone by the epidemic. The charity says 1,400 of those orphans remain “critically at risk” regarding their health and security.
Cafferkey said she was “excited to go back” and meet other Ebola survivors. “It’ll be great to see Sierra Leone in a different state, and also know that I might be able to help as well. We weren’t allowed to travel around it last time,” she said.
The nurse, who lives in Glasgow, said her experience of Ebola was very different to that of other survivors in west Africa. “I had massive support from family and friends and could get medical and psychological support,” she said.
“The Ebola patients in Sierra Leone didn’t know what they were going home to, or who was left alive in their family. They might be going back to sheer hell.”
Last September Cafferkey was cleared by her regulatory body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which had investigated allegations that she concealed her high temperature at Heathrow on her return from Sierra Leone.
The NMC, which could have struck her off the nursing register, said Cafferkey’s judgment had been compromised by her developing illness and so she could not be held responsible for putting the public in danger. Cafferkey said she reported her high temperature but was allowed to fly on to Glasgow.
Two nurses who were involved in taking Cafferkey’s temperature were suspended for one month and two months respectively over the issue, which they said happened during a “chaotic” Public Health England screening process at Heathrow.