September 1, 2015 / 2:23 PM / 2 years ago

Liberian Ebola survivor battles prejudice in UN virtual reality film

LONDON, Sept 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A virtual reality film aims to draw attention to prejudice towards Ebola survivors by guiding viewers through the life of a woman in Liberia who uses her immunity to help others affected by the disease, the creators said on Tuesday.

The eight-minute film "Waves of Grace" is part of a series of virtual reality (VR) films commissioned by the United Nations to fight donor fatigue on humanitarian issues including the plight of Syrian refugees in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

It transports the viewer to West Point, the most populous slum in Monrovia, and follows Ebola survivor Decontee Davis, offering a 360-degree view of her surroundings as she looks after orphaned children and cares for others with the disease.

"The Ebola crisis has captivated the world in its devastating effects over the last year and a half... however, the individual stories behind the numbers are often not told," U.N. adviser and filmmaker Gabo Arora said.

Davis is one of some 28,000 people infected by the world's worst known Ebola epidemic, which has plagued in West Africa for more than 18 months and killed more than 11,000 people.

During the course of the epidemic, the outbreak has ebbed only to flare up again. Liberia was declared Ebola-free in May but a fresh cluster of cases appeared nearly two months later, and its last case was discharged on July 23.

The film shows markets reopening, children going back to school and men returning to work in Liberia, which could once again be declared Ebola-free this week. But Davis warns of suspicion towards survivors, who are often ostracised by their communities.

Yet survivors are believed to have immunity from Ebola due to antibodies in their blood, allowing them to care for the sick without risking their lives and making them a powerful weapon in the fight against the virus, according to health experts.

"I work with those who have lost their mothers and fathers from the sickness. Please help us teach people the truth - that survivors like us are safe and cannot spread the disease," Davis says in the film at the bedside of a young boy in hospital.

The VR technology used to shoot the film, which is not yet widely available to the public but has been used by the gaming industry, gives viewers the impression that they can reach out and touch the people gathered around them. (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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