LIVING WITH EBOLA: update 2 from Sierra Leone

Hello all,

I’ve just received this  from my nurse friend.  It’s a little bit longer than my usual posts but well-written and paints a very vivid picture of what it’s like on the ground, actually being involved with the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone.  She has asked to remain anonymous.

‘Dear Friends,

I’ve got behind with emails so here’s a general update of what I’ve been doing – nothing earth shattering; maybe it’s better to do something small than to do nothing.

The lock down last weekend was successful in the sense that many suspected cases were identified, approx. 100 around Makeni & environs plus hidden corpses, 4 dumped in the grounds of an RC primary school in Makeni (according to one of the priests). Radio says 90 corpses retrieved in Freetown. BUT holding centres are all full, no capacity to manage all the cases. One of our villages has 700 people quarantined, each day 15 – 20 show symptoms and 6/7 bodies appear overnight.  Fr Francis, an active parish priest in the Kenema district, is developing a sensitization programme (to educate people about how Ebola is spread):   he distributed buckets and chlorine for handwashing which I bought from donations many have kindly sent.

During the lockdown, I spent a lot of time plugging gaps at the Holding Centres – the challenge was that all the shops and
markets were closed so when shortages arose it needed a lot of phone calls and persuasion to get people to open and sell.

1. The generator at one Holding Centre is unreliable so I bought a dozen ‘Chinese lamps’ (like free standing torches which operate
on three big batteries) for the wards and nurses at night. Then, the second Hold Centre wanted them as a stand-by in case the
national grid went off (which, sure enough, it did during a storm on Saturday night).

2. The number of patients exceeded expectations so there were not enough jugs to measure and issue ORS (oral rehydration solution). I bought 100 bottles  water (1.5 L) and marked them at the 1 L point. This also made it convenient to send ORS with patients being transferred to the Treatment Centres in Kenema /Kailahun (up to 7 hours by ambulance).
3. On ‘lock down’ Sunday, engine oil for the generator ran out so I bought a gallon.

On Thursday, I held a workshop / meeting for ‘youth’, mainly those who had volunteered to help clean up premises designated as new
Holding Centres the previous week (cleaning materials and a snack lunch for 24 of them courtesy of donations). The Centres for
Disease Control doctors (Americans) had identified an upsurge in Ebola cases among teenagers in Bombali District so we decided
to discuss the issue with the young people.  The number of teenage cases so far in September is four times greater than in
July/August combined; whereas, adult cases ‘only’ doubled.

After a general recap on Ebola which started with film / video clips, they discussed in small groups possible reasons for the upsurge among teenagers and then in plenary how they, as young people, can respond. They asked so many questions about Ebola – cannot it be transmitted by mosquitoes, why not immediately test people in quarantine homes rather than waiting for symptoms, how long does the virus live outside the body – it was good to address their concerns if nothing else.

A number blamed the mid-August start of the football season in the UK for the upsurge. Although video and entertainment centres
are closed under the State of Emergency young people apparently huddle over smartphones, laptops iPad etc to watch matches
in private homes. Young people do not seem concerned about body contact, they also mentioned casual sexual intercourse. In
addition, many young people are still denying the existence of Ebola.

At the end of the session ideas about ‘response’ were not as concrete as I’d have liked (lots of ‘talk to our peers’, ‘face-to-face
sensitisation’) but on Friday I got calls proposing various initiatives:

1. composing radio jingles to be injected during music programmes since young people do not listen to talk programmes
2. youth hosting a radio programme for youth (about Ebola)
3. visiting remote villages
4. an invitation from one parish to show the video clips at the end of Mass tomorrow
5. a request for the video clips on CD for use at a Mosque.

We’re meeting on Tuesday to discuss the support these initiatives need and what I can give. In addition, it’s been suggested that we repeat the process for another group of youth belonging to the Civil Society Platform. Under the State of Emergency public gatherings are banned so it’s only Churches/Mosques or smaller education initiatives that reach people.

Personally it’s been a sad week.  Colleagues have died including Br Manuel, the Spanish Dr from the hospital where I taught. This whole Ebola thing is v emotional…. at one Holding Centre, two children ‘passed off’ (as they say here) within an hour of admission (they’d
come from the village of 700 mentioned above). The nurse on duty was so distressed that s/he (cannot tell when they
are in full PPEs) came running out of the ward straight towards the rest of us, crying and shouting. People shouted at him/her to
stop and keep his/her distance, s/he stopped about 10 feet from us which was within the bounds of safety (I hope) but it shows how emotion can overcome prudence.

That’s about all I can share for now.

Thanks to everyone for your support and PLEASE continue to pray for us all.’

(image from


10 thoughts on “LIVING WITH EBOLA: update 2 from Sierra Leone

  1. it is just extraordinary to think of all that going on….. horrendous situation…. and here we are in this country just all plodding on as ever really….

    How wonderful that your friend is so calm and focussed in the middle of such a crisis, and coming up with resourceful ways to deal with each calamity – amazing!

    Will keep her and all affected in my prayers.


  2. This is extremely chilling, to hear how it’s spreading is heartbreaking, they obviously need more funds to even supply basic care and treatment. I struggle to see how they seem to be abandoned, isn’t this 2014….shouldn’t more aid be reaching them….
    Your friend is an absolute inspiration, I am in awe of her. How she carries on is beyond me, the risk to her life is dire….and to see colleagues and people die…amazing woman. I hope this is brought under control


  3. What a terrible situation for all those people caught up in the emergency. I do hope that all the measures taken will help to bring the virus under control. Your friend is clearly doing a lot of small things which are desperately needed. And how sad that some of the colleagues she is working with have died. I can only imagine what it must be like to be living in those conditions.


  4. The first hand report ties in well with the media reporting. The one difference I detect, from what I have been hearing, the media tend to report that the lock-down is not an effective tool…health professionals get wheeled out from somewhere to endorse why. Whatever means are used to increase support and help in the ebola epidemic, in my view, are okay. If another slant on any procedure attempting to slow the spread is voiced that does it, so be it.

    Your friend has all the qualities desperately required for her work. I am humbled.


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