This happened during the height of the crisis and at a time when the United Nations Health Agency had declared Ebola an “international health emergency”.
Speaking on September 3rd, the President of MSF spoke out and said, “Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it.”
As background to this blog, we need to relate some of those early days, as shared with us:
“Foya in Lofa County had the first case of Ebola in Liberia. The patient died and many health workers and family members also died. There were three cities in the County of Lofa near the Guinea border. Voinjama, Zorzor and Foya that were ‘like hell’ with fourteen to fifteen deaths per day. People thought the water must be poisoned and they refused to drink it. In these small communities where people seldom saw any vehicles they began to see ambulances passing by. The locals would come out to stare at them and children waved at them. Some people developed high blood pressure at the shock of the loud sirens and alarms from the ambulances. Increasing fear of death by an unknown enemy caused many people to lock themselves inside their homes for protection. Many rumours circulated about Ebola including that it was caused by witchcraft or by snakes biting people for revenge. There were beliefs that ambulances were taking sick people away to kill them, that white people were collecting organs for science, that body bags were used to hide the fact that patients had been decapitated and that doctors and nurses were deliberately spreading Ebola.
In Montserrado County, which includes Monrovia, the capital, there were only two functional ambulances at the height of the crisis. People were donating their cars to transport patients to the few hospitals that remained open. There was no quick treatment or response and at one point there were many bodies just lying along the road. In late October, an angry mob blocked a major road just outside of Monrovia in protest of the lengthy delay in picking up bodies.
Many health clinics and hospitals were closed due to staff having died or being too fearful to work. There was no knowledge of how to protect oneself and there was no protective medical equipment such as was to arrive later.”
It was during this time that Patricia Kamara, the Executive Director at the Christian Health Association of Liberia (CHAL), issued an urgent e-mail appeal for assistance. World Renew was one of the first to respond. The response targeted the delivery of medical supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE) and Ebola prevention messaging. They were to distribute these to the forty-five clinics that are members of CHAL. That may sound very straightforward but …………..
Elijah Crusoe, the Project Coordinator and the expedition leader described to us some of the many challenges the team faced. The clinics are dispersed over the entire country and the road conditions range from bad to terrible. The donated medical supplies plus six CHAL personnel were crammed into a vehicle to distribute to the counties in the southeast that were the hardest to reach. At the time, September, the Ebola virus was spreading wildly and many communities were totally without knowledge of the seriousness, symptoms or prevention of Ebola. The team was understandably fearful as they headed out – they themselves were well informed about the extreme danger they were facing. To minimize the risk to themselves they had to make every effort to avoid touching people. They brought along their own bedding and each evening they totally wiped down every surface in their rented rooms with chlorine disinfectant and locked themselves in. Everyone and everything was suspect at this time of the Ebola crisis.
Having taken all precautions, the team was greatly dismayed when one of the team members became ill halfway through the journey. It was frightening to have him crammed into the vehicle with them and display some Ebola-like symptoms. They remained at one of the local clinics for three days. During this time, since he responded well to the treatment for typhoid fever and his fever was dropping, it was determined by process of elimination that he did not have Ebola. Thank God!
There were other complications. It was the rainy season and the roads were slick with mud and potholes two feet deep. Added to that was their panic and fear at seeing armed militia at every county border trying to turn them away from their purpose. Each county had been isolated to protect the spread of Ebola and were using soldiers to prevent access. This also brought back bad memories for some of this team who had only recently been in the centre of a 15-year civil war.
In many of these hard-to-reach communities there was very little knowledge about Ebola prevention. The team was warmly welcomed by each clinic and at every class session, the health workers were intensely engaged. Word got out that these classes were being held and often people came from quite some distance to become informed. The staff and the Community Health Volunteers (gCHVs) were taught about the signs and symptoms of Ebola, how to prevent it, how to protect one’s family if one person in the house has possibly been infected and how the clinic staff should properly use the personal protective equipment provided by the team. Along with the classroom instruction, every county was given 5,000 flyers to distribute with similar information. Many local people could not read so the Ebola messages were also spread verbally by the gCHVs, village to village, house to house, and person to person.
Some clinics had been closed since they had no more medications or no available staff due to fear, illness or death. However the team’s commitment remained strong and they continued to distribute the remaining medications, PPEs and teaching messages to other clinics that had not received any of these items.
What a tremendous sacrifice these six CHAL employees made to stay true to their mission! They risked their vehicular safety on these dangerous roads, experienced great mental anxiety and fear and put their physical health and lives on the line. They were cognizant that their work could also jeopardize the health of their families upon their return.
They have earned the gratitude of the communities they served and the many people whose lives were saved through their efforts. They have our deepest respect.
World Renew is incredibly grateful to them and stands in awe of their whole-hearted commitment in implementing this project! They are truly heroes!
This past week Liberia released its last Ebola patient after going a week without any new cases. It is the first time since May 2014 that Liberia has had no new cases of the virus!
International Relief Managers