Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself speaking to ActionAid colleagues in Sierra Leone and Liberia almost on a daily basis, as I work with ActionAid’s humanitarian emergencies team to help control the Ebola virus outbreak across West Africa while also ensuring they too are protected.
ActionAid staff are fighting disease and fear
Listening to my colleagues and hearing their stories of the way the disease is spreading like wildfire and the fear it is creating, it’s hard not to be moved by the dedication and commitment of our local staff who are out in Ebola-affected communities every day.
To help prevent Ebola virus, ActionAid staff are:
- telling people how the disease can be spread and how you can try to protect yourself
- talking to families about why people who are sick or showing symptoms should seek medical attention, despite their fears
- providing health centres with the equipment and supplies they need to protect medical staff and give patients the best chance of recovery.
As a humanitarian, and with my professional background in public health, it’s frustrating to me that the support I can offer is at a distance rather than alongside my colleagues in the field, but I know too that my presence would be as much a burden as a service to them at this time.
Staff safety is our primary concern
I’m pleased that the safety of our staff and the people we work with is of primary concern to all involved in our humanitarian response. At the very start of our response in Sierra Leone over two months ago, training all our staff and volunteers in the prevention and control of Ebola was the first step we took and since then we continue to ensure we minimise the risk to them and the communities they work with.
That’s why we’ve taken some difficult decisions to slow down and even suspend other non-Ebola work in the region, focussing all our capacity on battling the virus. We don’t want to be bringing people together for activities, meetings or workshops that can happen at another time, when it might mean exposing people to potential infection.
Protecting staff from Ebola infection
As the Ebola virus spreads, we are also asking staff not involved in the Ebola response to stay at home part of the week, providing them with mobile phones and portable modems to allow them to work remotely. Our offices now have not only sanitizers and improved hand washing facilities but also infra-red thermometers to scan the temperature of visitors as they arrive.
As confirmed deaths from Ebola approach the 2,000 mark in the region, I’m incredibly proud of the courage and tireless energy of my colleagues in fighting the twin scourges of Ebola and the crippling fear it brings.