In just a few months, Ebola has killed over 1000 people across four West African countries. Cyprien Fabre, Head of ECHO’s regional office, travelled to the Ebola hot spot in Sierra Leone where humanitarian aid workers are battling day after day to prevent the virus from spreading further.
Two hours’ drive from Kailahun on a poorly maintained dirt track, the car turns and sways. We reach the village of Pendembu. I'm with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent and Red Cross Sierra Leone, whose volunteers are responsible for monitoring suspected cases of Ebola. They also track the 'contacts', people who have been in contact with infected persons or bodies.
Our first appointment is with the local authorities. Pendembu is one of 14 'chiefdoms' in the Kailahun district. Under an awning, we meet the 'paramount chief'. Being almost sacred he speaks through his 'speaker' or spokesperson. We are very late, because of the dirt track, but they do not show impatience. All the council of elders are with him, some local leaders, local Red Cross officials as well as 8 people cured of Ebola. The 6 women and 2 men, of all ages, sit cramped together on a bench, looking a little overawed.
After the usual speeches, including my own to express European solidarity, and that they are not alone in the fight against Ebola, I talk a bit with some of the cured patients through an interpreter. The stories are difficult to hear. It is here, on the ground, far far away we realise that behind the statistics and increasing graph curves, there are stories of broken lives.
A young woman of twenty years lost her entire family; father, mother, brother and sister. She is the only one left to take care of the baby. She cries a lot and women volunteers of the Red Cross social service hold her close to them.
A man comes to speak to me, he lost his wife and does not know what to do. Although it is not said, stigma exists. Even cured, people remain more or less under suspicion. Upon leaving the isolation center, the Ministry of Health issues a certificate, a large blue sheet the size of a degree certificate which ensures that the holder is no longer ill. 8 people wear them. They show me, without pleasure, without relief, just a sign that life stopped for a moment and that new tests are coming. Surviving Ebola is not the end, it is the beginning of a new uphill struggle.
What happened next? Read Part II of this post.
Cyprien Fabre, Head of ECHO Regional Support Office, West Africa
The EU has allocated humanitarian aid in response to the Ebola outbreak since the first confirmed case in March. The Commission’s emergency response has increased four times and now stands at €11.9 million. These funds allow the World Health Organization (WHO), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Federation of the Red Crescent Red Cross (IFRC) to continue and expand their actions.
Humanitarian aid experts from the Commission were deployed in affected countries to carry out a needs assessment and coordinate with health authorities, the WHO and humanitarian partners on the ground. A European mobile laboratory set up in Guéckédou, Guinea, in early April has already conducted 1100 tests on samples from Guinea and Liberia. A second European mobile laboratory is currently being deployed.