• December 29, 2015

Pictures We Love: Facing a Ruthless Virus

Proof Staff

As the year began to come to a close, we asked National Geographic staff who work closely with photography—through the magazine, Your Shot, News, Travel, and Proof—to choose a photo from 2015 that they just can’t stop thinking about. There’s no formula for what makes an image resonate—it can be a piercing gaze, the perfect light, or a tender moment that strikes a chord with our editors. Over the coming days, we’ll reveal the 2015 photographs they found most memorable and why.

Picture of a man stricken with ebola struggling outside the facility, assisted by medical workers
Delirious from Ebola, a man is lifted after he tried to climb the wall of the Hastings Ebola treatment center near Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. Twelve hours later he died, one more fatality in a count that now exceeds 10,000.
Seeking the Source of Ebola,” July 2015
Photograph by Pete Muller

Kurt Mutchler, Senior Photo Editor for Science, National Geographic Magazine

At this writing, there have been 28,607 cases of Ebola virus disease and 11,314 deaths in West Africa since the start of the deadly outbreak nearly two years ago, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Pete Muller made this searing image in November 2014 at the peak of the outbreak in Sierra Leone. I will never forget it.

While he was in the field, Muller wrote me an email on how he was doing. He simply stated, “Got some intense pictures of a very, very sick man with Ebola-induced delirium trying to escape from a treatment facility yesterday. It was one of the most tragic things I’ve seen during my experience covering Ebola. I actually thought we were going to watch him die right there in [the] rain.”

In Sierra Leone—where 221 healthcare workers, all heroes in my mind, lost their lives battling the insidious disease—the WHO just announced that Ebola virus transmission had finally been stopped. The battle continues in Guinea and Liberia.

This picture, and the others that Muller made, are for all the heroes. Let us not forget.

A young child orphaned by ebola sits in a room full of empty chairs
After a ceremony for Ebola survivors who were discharged from Hastings Ebola Treatment Center in Sierra Leone, Molai Kamara, who lost his entire family to the disease, sits alone. Kamara, who is believed to be about 12, has recovered from Ebola but still suffers from ulcers and has difficulty walking. He was transferred to a hospital for additional care.
Finding Homes for Ebola’s Orphans,” February 2015
Photograph by Pete Muller

Nicole Werbeck, Senior Photo Editor, News

When the Ebola outbreak was going on, I wondered what happened to the children of the people who died. I wanted find out about the orphans. At the same time, senior science photo editor Kurt Mutchler was interested in doing a story about the origins of Ebola.

We combined our resources and hired photographer Pete Muller.

Fortunately for the people of Sierra Leone, the government is very strict about access to these children. Unfortunately for Pete, it took several days for him to find an orphanage in Sierra Leone that would allow him to document the lives of these children.

While this photo was not from the orphanage, I think it tells a lot of the story about the orphans and what they endured. It is the one photo I worked with this year that has stuck with me.

Molai Kamara lost his entire family to Ebola. He is believed to be about 12 and has himself recovered from Ebola. He was eventually sent with some other kids to get additional care.

I can’t imagine the misery Kamara experienced and the losses he suffered.

Many of these children had no one to turn to and no where to go. They were shunned by their communities when they tried to return home.

Pete Muller brought their despair and suffering to the forefront for me.

Discover more moving images from 2015 in these related “Pictures We Love” posts:

There is 1 Comment. Add Yours.

  1. Bob Carter
    December 29, 2015

    Wow. That really is tragic. It’s horrific on so many levels and even the aftermath for these people is tragic. Thank god for the silent heroes who continue to fight to make the world a better place… Thanks for this story too. It’s a difficult story to digest because it forces us in our relative comfort to consider a different perspective that we’d rather not face.

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