Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic

Saah Exco – the little warrior.

His name was Saah Exco. I did not know of him until a few days when I read his story in a news article. It is such a tragic and heart wrenching story that I felt compared to share in the hope that it will raise more awareness of the plight of Ebola sufferers in Africa.

Saah was was a little 10 year old boy Liberian boy who died of suspected Ebola. According to reports Saah was found naked and abandoned on a beach in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.  His story was brought to the media’s attention by a photographer David Gilkey who took his photo Reports indicate that Saah had been a patient at the Ebola holding center, but was later released. Saah’s mother and brother had died of Ebola and he was on his own. When he was found he was sickly and weary, drifting in and out of consciousness, clinging to life.

He was surrounded by a group of onlookers, none of whom wanted to take him home. They laid him in an alleyway on a cardboard box, and gave him some clothes to wear. But no one wanted to hold him, to take him into a home. To touch him could mean signing one’s own death warrant. Understandably no one wanted to risk it. He was later moved to a hospital where he died.

There is something about Saah’s story that has a profound effect on me.  I feel sad that this little boy died of a horrible illness. I am more heartbroken to think that he most likely died alone without the comfort of a loving touch. I find myself thinking of his last days. He was probably confused and scared.  A lot of questions cross my mind. Did he know that he was dying?  Would anyone mourn his passing?  I didn’t know this little boy, but as I read his story, and watched the video, I broke down and cried. His little face haunts me. How can a child die like that? I pray the he received a decent burial, a burial with some compassion.

Image: Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic

Saah Exco is undressed on the street and given clothes to wear.

The Ebola endemic is all over the headlines across the globe. More than 2,400 people have died as a result of the disease in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have recorded the vast majority of cases. As a result, health workers have been especially vulnerable as they respond to the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

I live in the West African region, and I am reminded everyday of the risks of transmission of Ebola. I read and watch the news, and hear about the statistics on Ebola victims, but I am so removed from it that in some ways I have become hardened to the events. I am not an expert on Ebola and neither do I know all the facts, but I am aware that there are so many people adults and children alike. who have died in this manner. Isolated, alone, afraid, and dejected.  Saah Exco has given Ebola a face. I ask myself, if I were one of the onlookers would I have picked him up, taken him to a hospital and looked after him? Would I cradle this dying child in my arms and give him some comfort and show him some compassion in his final moments with the knowledge that any contact I have with him could be catastrophic for me?  Ironically, experts tell us that it is this type of compassion that has contributed the massive spread of Ebola.

Today, I would like to ask all Afritorial readers to stop for a minute think of him, and his last days.  To honour this child and many others who have suffered this terrible illness with such courage, strength and dignity. This little warrior who fought this illness alone, until his tiny body could fight no more.  A victim of the Ebola virus.

I do not want Saah Exco to die in vain. I do not want him to be just another Ebola statistic, just another story I read about on the news. I do not want him to be forgotten. He was a child of Africa. He had a face and a name. He had dreams. He deserved better than this.

MONROVIA, LIBERIA - AUGUST 19:  People walk past a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on August 19, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. The boy was one of the patients that was pulled out of a holding center for suspected Ebola patients when the facility was overrun by a mob on Saturday. A local clinic Tuesday refused to treat the boy, according to residents, because of the danger of infection. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African nations, more in Liberia  than any other country.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

MONROVIA, LIBERIA – AUGUST 19: People walk past a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on August 19, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Last night I dreamt of Saah Exco. He is walking along the beach with his mother. He looks healthy, and happy. He calls out to his friends, and waves goodbye. He has big smile on his face.

I wake up from my dream and for the first time in the last few days I do not cry for Saah Exco.

He is not a victim, he is a warrior. He is not a statistic, he is a person.  He has walked his journey, he has finished the race. He is at peace, he is at peace.

RIP Saah Exco, bless your little soul. I will never forget you.


Image reference: 

MONROVIA, LIBERIA – AUGUST 19:  Local residents dress a sick Saah Exco, 10, after bathing him in a back alley of the West Point slum on August 19, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. According to communite organizer John Saah Mbayoh, Saah’s mother died of suspected but untested Ebola in West Point before he was brought to the isolation center the evening of August 13. He came with his brother, Tamba, 6, aunt Ma Hawa, and cousins. His brother died on Friday at the center. Saah fled the center the Friday night with several other patients before it was overran on Saturday afternoon by a mob. Once out in the neighborhood, he was not sheltered, as he had suspected Ebola – so he has slept outside since Saturday. Residents reportedly began giving him medication, a drip and oral rehydration liquids Tuesday afternoon. The whereabouts and condition of his aunt and cousins, who left the facility when it was overran by the crowd, is still unknown at this time. The Ebola virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African nations. (Photo: David Gilkey)

 Story reference:


About The Author


Cynthia Malingu has over ten years’ experience in the senior management of aid development projects, working with a number of international development agencies including the World Bank, AusAID and the Asian Development Bank throughout Africa, Asia and the Pacific. She has a professional interest in quality outcomes for developing communities, environment, gender, governance, and training in the development industry.

15 Responses

  1. Brian

    I was so deeply touched and troubled by the misery of this poor child’s life . . the photos were so heart rending . . stripped literally of everything . . his clothes, his family, his health. The dignity he displayed in the midst of his suffering was Christ-like and I think anyone with a heart who saw this had theirs broken by the sight. I hope and pray and beseechingly trust that Saah Exco’s soul is resting in Heaven and that he is finally at Peace. I will never ever forget this beautiful child.

    • Afritorial

      Thank you Brian for your kind words. May he, and all our other brothers and sisters who’ve been ravaged by this disease, truly rest in peace.

    • yun hi

      What a helplessness ..what a misery ..after reading and seeing this , I thoroughly believe in impotency of we (common) people who feel this but can not do anything and who can do anything OR who are capable to do something can not see the same way because the are so busy in their own “PERSONAL MATTERS” or they can only help to those who belongs to them.

  2. Jamie

    As I look at these photos I ask myself…”What did the photographer do to help?”… or did they just stay behind the lens of the camera to get the story. No person, let alone a child should ever die this way…as a story for a photographer.

  3. BONIN Eseenam Amevi

    Meanwhile African high ranking officials are as usual drinking champagne…. VERY SAD AFRICA !

  4. Harrison

    Are we still our brothers keeper?… have we been left numb by constant images of the world and brush off this poor child’s life and turn a page untouched……SPARE A THOUGHT AND A PRAYER TO SAAH……

  5. Davina

    I can remember seeing the photo of Saah Exco pass my facebook news feed and I sobbed, and vowed should the children of my soul (my son, niece and close friends) ever become ill that I would be there to hold him as they passed. I saw this photo many weeks ago now and it astounded me today to come across your article just by clicking while drinking my coffee and to see this little boy who has not left my mind every time I hear the word Ebola. Thank you for giving light to his story. His photo has been on my mind every day for weeks now, and now, instead of just remembering his photo, I can remember his name. Bless x

  6. Sharon P.

    This little boy has not left my mind since I first saw his picture. His images were so beautiful and so sad. Heartbreakingly so. I pray for him and his family, and I made a donation to Doctors Without Borders in his memory. I wish I could do more. I will never forget Saah Exco. I hope I will meet him some day in a place with no illness–no tears.

  7. Bridget

    I want to thank you for expressing so beautifully what so many felt upon seeing and hearing about sweet Saah’s suffering. Thank you for honoring his immense courage and dignity. His spirit will continue to inspire compassion and honor in us.

  8. Margueritte

    I recently heard that Ebola still ravages, at 11,000 and counting. My thoughts, my emotions immediately went to the boy who has become “The Face of Ebola”. Saab Exco….. I first saw the frail, beautiful child in 2014 and my heart crushed at how he was treated by “health workers”. Saah, the boy on the bucket…. He disappeared and I instantly saw my youngest son in his place, a slim frail boy himself. I cried helplessly, wondering if others would not want to comfort my child. The despair….. Exco’s sweet brave countenance reminds me of Christ’s suffering. May he be comforted within the loving arms of God for ever.

  9. Tinh

    I remember crying when I saw these heartbreaking pictures last year and one year later, these pictures still evokes the same feelings. I sit here with my eyes watering up as I think of Saah. I have a 3 year old boy who I love more than anything in this world. I can’t imagine if he was in this situation. Yet, thousands or even millions have to deal with this plight daily. It just breaks my heart to think that children all over the world have to deal with such suffering.
    To me, the world is full of compassionate people who wish they can do more or help but within this world, there’s too many who could care less. I just wish we looked at all children as if they were our own and reach out to those around the world in need.
    Thank you for this beautiful article. The reminder that there’s real suffering in the world.


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