The Royal Commonwealth Society has just met with Sierra Leonean and Liberian diaspora groups to discuss the outbreak of the Ebola virus, which in the last two months has had a devastating impact in West Africa. Around 2,300 people have died so far this year in the worst Ebola outbreak on record which has mostly affected Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, although cases have also been found in Nigeria and Senegal. Research is also showing that far from being effectively combatted, cases are rising. Furthermore, the international response has been far from adequate in dealing with this outbreak. Many aid organisations, including Médecins Sans Frontières, say that the most urgent need is not for more money, but for expert teams in bio-hazard containment, nurses and clinicians.
Whilst a vast array of organisations are working in affected countries in West Africa, many of them are chronically under-staffed, and no matter how robust the response, there are always people who fall between the gaps. This is where our two diaspora groups step in, to try to pick up the pieces that are left behind in the frantic and under-resourced response to the Ebola crisis.
Velma Troko is a Liberian woman who has set up the UK Liberia Ebola Taskforce. This group is a coalition of Liberian diaspora groups and individuals, coordinated so as to be able to respond effectively to the Ebola crisis. They use their links to affected communities within Liberia to find out the actual needs of individuals on the ground. They have found that a key problem is the stigmatisation of sufferers, who become unable to return to their homes. However, many sufferers still fear to go to hospitals and special clinics, because they fear that they will never leave again. Many families do not want to send their loved ones to clinics because they will be unable to bury them according to tradition, as the body will be disposed of in a safe way. Another key problem is that in many cases it is the bread winner of the family that has been killed by the virus, leaving dependents with no way to provide for themselves.
The UK Liberia Ebola Taskforce delivers crucial shipments of medical supplies to hospitals and to the police via air cargo. They accompany this with health education and the dissemination of crucial information to affected communities. One of the tools that has been most useful for this is radio, and so far 5 programmes about Ebola have been aired on national radio in Liberia. Their community links mean that they can get messaging and supplies to those who may not have access to them otherwise. They are also advocating for more action from the UK government on this issue.
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is Sierra Leonean, and co-founder of the Sierra Leone War Trust for Children (SLWT). The organisation’s usual programming has, however, been overtaken by the need to quell the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, and the organisation is dedicating its time and resources to this end. With a clear understanding of what is already being done in Sierra Leone, the SLWT have again made efforts to fill the gaps, with four key programmes. Firstly, they have set up hand-washing stations in Freetown and rural areas where access to running water is not widespread. Hand washing is a simple and effective way of combatting the spread of Ebola, and facilitating this practice is crucial to stopping the spread of the disease. Secondly, SLWT are providing first-level defence equipment for doctors and nurses working in private hospitals and clinics. These receive health care workers receive no government funding and are not supported by international agencies. The inability to see patients in safety has led to these hospitals and clinics shutting down, meaning that people with other health problems have nowhere that they can be seen. The provision of disposable aprons, gloves, shoe covers and touch-free thermometers means that these private hospitals and clinics can stay open, sending suspected Ebola sufferers to the specialised clinics treatment centres whilst continuing to deal with other medical issues. Thirdly, SLWT have provided over almost 1000 two-piecefull-length raincoats to those who operate the motorcycles which constitute most of the public transport in Sierra Leone. Commonly known as”okada2 riders”, the dDrivers of these motorcycles are a high-risk group as passengers hold on to them during transit and sweat is exchanged. As Ebola is transmitted via bodily fluids, this can cause infection. Providing waterproof covers protects the drivers and helps stop the spread of the disease. Finally, with the announcement of the upcoming threefour-day lock-instay-at-home program, proposed for the 18th-20th 21stSeptember, SLWT is concerned about those living in slums in Freetown, who will be unable to go to the market to buy food during the lock-in, who cannot stock up on supplies, and who may be overlooked by larger organisations. They are therefore providing food parcels for between 2000-3000 families.
Both of these organisations are doing crucial work with communities who are being overlooked by the international community. However, they rely on donations in order to be able to deliver their services, and to scale them up where possible. The details for each organisation are at the bottom of the page and we urge you to look at their websites, and take action. The Ebola outbreak has already proved devastating in the countries in which it has taken hold. It is the responsibility of the international community to stop this disease from spreading further, and to support those who have been affected or infected already.
Photo by the European Commission DG ECHO.