A year of Ebola in Sierra Leone
It’s been a year since the Ebola virus struck Sierra Leone and the fight to get to zero continues, explains Isotta Pivato, our advocacy expert in Freetown.
May 28 2015
It’s been a year since Sierra Leone declared its first Ebola case, on 26 May 2014. The virus has since claimed the lives of at least 3,542 people, with 8,608 cases confirmed as of last week.
Earlier this month (on 9 May 2015) the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Liberia Ebola-free, after the country celebrated 42 days without a new case. Unfortunately, the battle continues for the people of Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Sierra Leone’s government is working tirelessly with aid organisations, including Action Against Hunger, to prevent anyone else becoming ill with this cruel condition. While the pace of the outbreak is slowing, the fight to end it is far from over.
Many of the most recent cases have been identified in Kambia, a district near the border with Guinea. With that in mind, the government, with international support – including from the UK Department for International Development and us, is now ploughing efforts into stemming the problem there. But the capital, Freetown, has also recently identified new cases.
We’re spending time helping to build or reconstruct water and sanitation facilities at local heath centres and district hospitals in Freetown and Kambia. Good water and sanitation systems are vital in the fight back against this virus.
And we’re spreading the word about Ebola in vulnerable communities too, namely how people can spot the symptoms and how they can avoid contracting the condition, including through frequent hand washing and avoiding contact with infected people or human remains.
Of course, it’s not just about those directly affected by Ebola. The epidemic has had a profound impact on a whole generation of young children who have watched on in horror and fear for the past year as parents, friends and relatives have suffered.
The outbreak has had a potentially devastating impact on their psychological, social and nutritional well-being. In many communities, schools serve specific social functions in addition to education – some serve meals, for example. With many schools closed, in addition to the closure of markets and travel restrictions in affected areas, there has been economic disruption and families’ income has been cut. Some children have been forced to go in search of food for themselves, and the number at risk of severe malnutrition has increased.
In Sierra Leone alone, there are now at least 8,000 Ebola orphans.
The needs are vast. We are providing nutritional support to children who have lost their mother to the virus, or to those mothers cannot breastfeed because of the trauma they have experienced.
We’ve also been working with the local authorities to develop a strategy that teaches mothers in Ebola-affected communities how to measure their child’s middle upper arm circumference using a simple colour-coded tape: this is a straight forward way to identify a child at risk of life-threatening malnutrition that also respects the no-touch policy in operation (trained community health workers would usually carry out the task).
Also, as movement and market restrictions have affected people’s ability to grow food or go out to work, and as many Ebola survivors still face significant stigmatization from fearful communities, we’re going to be working with them in Freetown and Moyamba to kick-start income-generating activities. We’ll be providing tools and training for them to grow vegetables, for example, and transferring cash to get them through to the next harvest.
While the media spotlight moves to other crises worldwide, it’s important we don’t forget the people of West Africa, who are still fighting this virus. With your help, we will continue to do what we can to help them win.
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