SLWT road shows, in London, Manchester, and Birmingham , are recruiting volunteers to fight against Ebola

'I have not been to Haiti or the Philippines, then why should I help fight Ebola?'The SLWT logo 

The first case of Ebola in Sierra Leone was registered this May. A few months later, the whole country was aflame with the lethal virus. Recent World Health Organization statistics record that Ebola has caused more than 5,000 deaths in Western Africa.

In the face of this fatal outbreak, the UK government is to open five new treatment facilities, which are to provide over 800 beds for Sierra Leone.

‘These new centres being built will be useless, unless there are people working in them’, comments Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, chair of Sierra Leone War Trust (SLWT). ‘We need people, and especially health care workers to manage these facilities and make sure that they are effective. This would be the only way to contain the spread of Ebola’.

To help the upcoming effort, SLWT has organized three volunteer recruitment road shows. The first one was in London on 20 October, the second – Manchester on 23 October, and the third – Birmingham on 27 October. The purpose behind the road shows is to explain why volunteering is of vital importance to prevent the spread of this dangerous disease.

‘Most people find that volunteering for this cause is not applicable to them: “I have not been to Haiti or the Philippines, then why should I help fight Ebola?” We want to contain this virus. For this to happen, there has to be an intervention of effective value. We need people. Our road shows aim to spread and support the UK government’s message to NHS staff, who are needed in Western Africa,’ explains Aki-Sawyerr.

Many UK organizations, aiding the battle against Ebola, are looking for clinical, but also non-clinical staff, to work in the health centres. People participating in this effort have to make an eight-week commitment. The first stage of the volunteering process includes a four to six week placement in a facility, alongside a two-week containment period. All volunteers are paid.

‘Our program in London was great’, remembers Aki-Sawyerr. ‘We had 145 people attending and a lot of media attention. And afterwards we actually had people signing up to volunteer. Their response was fantastic’.

The SLWT road shows include inspirational speeches by representatives of the organization; explanations by recruitment agency – UK-Med; messages from Sierra Leone (which are probably the most emotional aspect); and a Skype call with a UK doctor who has recently returned from Sierra Leone.

Dr Javid Abdelmoneim worked in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, as part of the Médecins Sans Frontières team, from 15 September. On 18 October, he arrived safely in London, where he is to remain until 5 November.

‘The current situation in Sierra Leone is dangerous, so it is human to be afraid of going out there. This fear is healthy’, recalls Dr Javid. ‘I was afraid before I went out, but once I got there and saw the protocols, our uniforms, and the work that we were to do, I became more confident’.

4Dr Javid in full PPE

When Dr Javid arrived, he was welcomed as part of a team, comprising of a small percentage of international health care workers. The locals, who accounted for 75 per cent of the team, had been there since the beginning.

‘They call themselves Ebola soldiers’, remarks Dr Javid. ‘These people have a stigma attached to them. Some of them were asked by their families to move out of their houses, due to the nature of their work. But despite all, local heath care workers have a good spirit – the Ebola soldiers still dance and sing’.

3Warrah, an infant who has survived

On a daily basis, medics have many challenges to overcome. One of these difficulties is the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), which are to be worn when dealing with patients. Dr Javid describes PPE as ‘restrictive and very physically demanding due to the hot climate’. Because of these reasons, health care workers find it very difficult to get close to patients. The PPE allows them to take care of people for only an hour at a time.

Another complication presented to all workers is dealing with the physiological trauma, which most of their patients experience. ‘We had a woman, who we treated for a very long time. She was doing well, but she was still not clear of the virus’, says Dr Javid. ‘She had seen 100 other people come and go. This had an effect on her, so she was constantly at our physiological treatment centres. All she wanted was to go back to her family’.

Seeing somebody lose the battle to Ebola was the saddest aspect of the fight for Dr Javid. ‘We had patients coming from all across the country. Unfortunately, some of these people were already dead, when they arrived at our health clinics. We had to bury some without names, without mourning, without their graves being identified in any way’.

5Unmarked graves in Sierra Lone

But survival rate is steadily going up – now at 43 per cent.

‘There is a no touching policy in place at all times’, remarks Dr Javid. ‘But once a patient is completely cured it is the happiest time for all. We can touch them skin-to-skin, because they are cleared; we usually give them hugs and high-fives’.

2Dr Javid and a pregnant mother, who has survived

Dr Javid intends on going back to Sierra Leone. On 1 November, you can catch his full story on BBC’s Panorama.


Images supplied by Dr Javid Abdelmoneim and the MSF

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