World Health Day – One year into the Ebola epidemic

Posted on: Wednesday, 1st April, 2015
Ebola Response Staff of CBM partner UMC Eye Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

"On World Health Day, 7 April, CBM marks the one year anniversary since the first diagnosed case of Ebola in what has become the deadliest outbreak in history. More than 10,000 people have died from Ebola in the past year, mostly in the West African nations including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In an interview for World Health Day, Dr John Mattia, an Ophthalmologist and Medical director at CBM-partner Kissy Eye Hospital in Sierra Leone, speaks to CBM about the new Ebola Sensitisation Project and the progress made in educating the public in Sierra Leone about Ebola.

With Ebola cases now in single digits, much of CBM’s work in Sierra Leone is now focused on targeting people with psychosocial disabilities as a result of Ebola and ensuring people with disabilities continue to get access to public health messages that can save their lives.

What is the Ebola Sensitisation project about?

The Ebola Sensitisation Project, initiated in November 2014, is a social mobilisation campaign aimed at educating communities about Ebola, the causes and prevention and safety measures. We conduct awareness raising workshops on the hospital premises and then organise social mobilisation activities for communities in villages, towns as well as cities mostly in the capital city of Freetown.

An important component of our awareness-raising activities is training religious and community leaders - mainly pastors and imams in churches and mosques, as well as school teachers. This way we can reach a wider audience. We also distribute dozens of tap (Veronica) buckets with chlorine and medicated soap, Ebola T-shirts and caps, and hundreds of Ebola posters and handbills in the targeted communities. In addition, we have held several radio campaigns and support the broadcast of Ebola jingles/songs on local radio stations.

And how do you reach disabled communities in Sierra Leone?

The disabled community is included in our outreach programs - in fact we are one of the few organisations in the entire country that includes people with disabilities. We have adapted all of our messages and our materials so that they are completely accessible to people with disabilities who are blind or deaf. We use sign language interpreters, and have distributed Ebola brochures in the form of Braille to the Educational Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ECBVI) in Freetown and the blind school in Makeni.

Ebola upset the delivery of eye health activities and other health care services last year. Has this situation changed?

Yes, the Ebola epidemic greatly affected eye care services in both CBM-supported projects in Sierra Leone, particularly at the Baptist Mission’s Eye Hospital in Lunsar which is situated in a district that was under quarantine for several months. However, since the easing of the state of emergency in the country with the lifting of quarantine on whole districts in early January 2015, the work situation has gradually been improving with steady increase in patient turnout in both eye hospitals. We are still working on putting into place infection prevention and control (IPC) into the two hospitals. In order for us to do this, we need to train staff members on the IPS protocols.

Other health care services that closed during the height of the epidemic, have now opened up again to the public, but are being delivered with caution. However, several hospitals across the region are still wary of opening theatres for surgery.

What challenges have hindered your work?

The ban on public gatherings by the Sierra Leonean government has hindered our work. Mass gatherings are allowed for awareness raising purposes, but the number should be limited and manageable. That's why we make sure our community sensitisation activities are targeted at no more that 200 people at any one time. We also organise Ebola video shows in churches and mosques with smaller gatherings of people. In bigger cities we stand on the streets with a loud speaker and hand out information leaflets.

What are your thoughts on the current Ebola situation?

Ebola is still a serious issue in Sierra Leone. However much has improved in the past few months, especially in terms of infrastructure - there are more treatment centres and much more awareness about Ebola. At present 1,637 patients can be accommodated in treatment centres, which wasn’t the case earlier. Ebola cases are now on the decline- at the height of the crisis there were over 300 cases per week, now the average is about 70 per week.

Communities are much more receptive to our awareness activities as well. Initially there was alot of misconception about Ebola. Now the public has seen for themselves the devastating effects of this disease, and are willing to do all it takes to eradicate Ebola from Sierra Leone and protect themselves. So I would say the situation is improving slowly, but there is still a lot that needs to be done as new Ebola figures keep on fluctuating.

Our appreciation goes to CBM and its supporters for making the funds available for this project. We also thank the wider international community for the help they have offered in order to contain Ebola in Sierra Leone and across West Africa.

© Wolfgang Guggenberger © WAMM"

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