The deadly Ebola virus threatens my friends in Sierra Leone | ActionAid UK

Last year I travelled to Sierra Leone with the actress Sarah Alexander to visit children and their families helped by ActionAid. The poverty we encountered was shocking and heart-breaking. However the warmth and hospitality we experienced were memorable and we made many good friends. But now, on top of their daily struggle for basics, the people we met are also at risk of catching deadly Ebola.

Young girl wearing yellow necklace and red top smiles at camera
Musa, 3, lives in an area of Sierra Leone affected by Ebola

I had heard of the Ebola virus but I was fuzzy about what the symptoms were. Now I know — they are horrendous and it travels fast.  In March this year it started in the Forest Guinea area of Guinea, now, barely 4 months later, it’s spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and most recently Ghana.

Ebola gets personal

Cases have now been reported in the very part of Sierra Leone that I visited — Bo. It’s horrifying enough that this type of rampant disease exists in 2014, let alone to truly comprehend that there is no vaccine or cure.

When I realised that my little friend Musa (3) who loved to smile for the camera and always held my hand while I was walking around the village may be at risk, it made it very personal.

Iye Mammy, 25, with her newborn baby and nurse, Mary Angela, 51. The baby was delivered with the help of trained midwives in a small but functioning birth waiting home (pictured) built with support from ActionAid. Blamawo in Bo District, Sierra Leone

I also think of Mary, the midwife, in the photo above (right). She is a formidable lady and one of the warmest women I’ve ever met. Her tiny health centre services 15 communities and she knows and cares for everyone personally.

Before the health centre was built, women had to walk five miles to get to the nearest hospital in order to give birth. Many didn’t make it and died in labour on the way. Iye Mammy pictured here with her newborn has had eight children, but only four have survived. As it is, only 40% of the population have access to healthcare at all.

Education vs Ebola

As little as 10% of people who are infected with Ebola survive. As I write, a national public health campaign is going on to educate people about how to avoid getting infected but also what to do if they’ve got it. Our projects on the ground are contributing to this vital work, which is why we need funds.

I thought my trip last summer was tough enough — meeting people in a country like Sierra Leone face-to-face changes your whole perception of the world. Now, the fear that people I lived amongst just last year might be at risk of this horrifying disease has brought what really matters in life sharply into focus. Now, more than ever, at the most basic level that’s survival.