Our Perspectives

A look behind the protective gear reveals the faces of Ebola


ebolaPhoto posters of Ebola workers from the Inside Out project are showcased on the UNDP Common House in Conakry, Guinea. Photo: Anthony Headley/UNDP Guinea

Forécariah is a grueling 3.5 hour drive out of Guinea’s capital, Conakry.  Although the road is only 100 kilometers, it is bustling with life. Between the potholes, the markets take over the two-lane highway’s flat surface.  The excitement of the road mirrored what I was feeling about my mission once I arrived in Forécariah.

I had chosen to take the portraits of the people who work in Ebola treatment centres.  To show the faces of those everyone has seen, but who have mostly appeared in their astronaut-looking suits, under their personal protective equipment.

These are the front line workers, the grunts of this brutal war against an invisible enemy, an opportunistic virus that does not bite, but rapes your body: the Ebola virus.

This endeavor was part of the Inside Out project, global art project transforming messages of personal identity into works of art.

The project commited to print the portraits of women and men who, for the most part, volunteered to work with their brothers and sisters infected with Ebola in Ebola treatment centres.

My intention was to capture their faces and intent, at the treatment center run by the Red Cross. I set up outside with a backdrop, tripod and camera. My colleagues Safia and Veronica sat under the motorbike shelter, waiting to help.

At first, there was just a trickle of people coming out of the centre. One by one, they sat in front of camera as I tried to focus on them. There was a lot at stake. They were giving up themselves. The way they looked into the camera, were they trying to say what it was like?

I chose to set aside these moments. After all, I was not there to ask, just to concentrate on their eyes, their demeanor, their untold story.

Their pride took over their pictures: all of them seemed strong, proud, full of achievement.

But under the shelter, something else happened. As the workers were signing their releases, Safia and Veronica asked if they had something they wanted to say, to add to their portrait.

Soon, my colleagues were swamped by these Ebola workers - a hygienist, a nurse, a nanny, a doctor - all wanted their story to be told, to be heard!

ebola worksPhotos from the Faces of Ebola project, workers Muhamed (left) and Finda (right).

Here are some of the “words of Ebola”:

Finda is a cleaning women at the treatment centre:

“When I came to work here, people asked me ‘why are you going there?’ But I signed up anyway. I mean, the one who gets sick has to come here so that we can treat them.”

Mohamed is in charge of disinfecting the treatment centre. He is one of those who witness firsthand the reticence of his fellow Guineans to come to the treatment centre. He appeals to his countrymen to not be afraid to come.

“I see people every day fall ill. I mean Guineans have to have the courage to get tested in the treatment centres.”

By taking pictures of these Ebola front line workers, I had wished to reveal the faces behind the personal protective suits of those who have paid the highest price in this on-going fight against Ebola. (Over 100 have died in the last year.)

Little did I realize they were so eager for this recognition, to be remembered, to be acknowledged for their work. These people who often went against their own families wishes and stood up to fight the Ebola virus.

See some of the portraits and testimonies in this photo essay.

Anthony Headley Crisis response Public service delivery Africa Guinea

UNDP Around the world