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08 April 2015

Liberia Blog on the Ebola crisis: Caroline Bowah Brown provides up-to-date reports

In our blog, the Director of the women’s rights and relief organisation medica mondiale Liberia, Caroline Bowah Brown, regularly reports on the current situation in her country: How is the Ebola crisis affecting everyday work? How are the organisation’s staff helping to deal with the epidemic? How can the counsellors protect themselves?

 

 Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2014: What a dreadful Ebola-year!

It was early last year when the news broke: Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) had hit the West African region. The news did not mean much to us at the time since we did not know much about the disease anyway. We all went about our normal businesses even after a few deaths in Liberia.

What we did not know at this time was how deep this Ebola Virus Disease was going to affect us. The name “Ebola” was strange. Some people started calling it “Deborah” and other funny names. That was the fun part; the worst was yet to come.

Ebola: Our hearts were pierced; our roots uprooted and all normal things became abnormal.

Gradually we saw the nightmare unfold before our eyes. The Ebola Virus Disease shook us from every aspect of our lives, sometimes I think there are no words to describe what happened. This was dreadful… more than one can imagine. Our hearts were pierced; our roots uprooted and all normal things became abnormal. We could not live as we knew before. Friends and family became strangers, fun places became ghost towns; nowhere was safe. Too many lives were lost like during the war years.

Somehow we kept going on. A nation severely devastated by a prolonged civil conflict and now hit by a health crisis.

Amidst all the terror, fear and pain, we remained strong. I remember during the heat of the health crisis, sitting at a friend’s place; it was so sad and I asked: “Where do we get the resilience from to wake up everyday and face another day?“

A new year has come and there’s positive developments regarding Ebola. We hope it is contained very soon. I believe we are getting back to normal life!

 

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Friday, February 27, 2015

medica mondiale Ebola prevention measures at Liberian schools: “Please come, come to our school!”

Yah Parwon, Ebola Response Team leader of medica mondiale Liberia, received a call from a school principal. He said “We’ve heard that medica mondiale Liberia is creating awareness and distributing thermometers and other items to small schools. We are in need of those items. Please come, come to our school!”

As the cases of Ebola are reducing, more concentration is now directed to ensuring that all schools open. The picture is getting better, less cases being reported, drug trial ongoing and we are hopeful that the trial outcome will be positive. But in the midst of this, the Government is adamant that schools should re-open even though these facilities lack the basic requirements.

“medica mondiale Liberia is the first and only entity that has identified with us during this Ebola crisis.”

Grace Gospel School is indeed a small school. The worn out appearance of the school building indicates that the school thrives on a low financial budget. The health volunteers of medica mondiale Liberia created awareness on Ebola prevention and the “Ministry of Education Back to School Protocol for Safe School Environment” for the teachers and faculty members of the Grace Gospel School. Hand wash materials and a thermometer were distributed at the end of the awareness session.

During the session, Mr. Harris, the school’s Principal remarked “medica mondiale Liberia is the first and only entity that has identified with us during this Ebola crisis.” He further stated “The items and awareness was really necessary and highly appreciated. Students are coming in and out but we could not take their temperatures.”

Fight against Ebola: Contributing to this fight in small but meaningful ways

Before our intervention at Grace Gospel, they were worried; they feared not meeting the requirements for the reopening of schools. Now, they are optimistic and look forward to a successful but safe school year. Day by day, we are giving small schools more confidence hoping that they adhere to the safety measures and keep the school environment safe.

Step by step we will defeat Ebola. EBOLA MUST GO! And medica mondiale Liberia is happy to be contributing to this fight in small but meaningful ways.

 

 

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

medica mondiale Liberia: Supporting the Children affected by Ebola

It is estimated that 1,304 children (612 boys and 692 girls) have been affected by the Ebola crisis. Even before the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak the situation of children in Liberia needed critical attention. When our team decided to support the response, it didn’t cross our mind that children will be part of this. We realized this later.

In November when we were supplying medical, food and sanitary supplies to the Rock Hill community in Paynesville we found two households where there were only two children – their parents had fallen sick and were taken to the Ebola treatment unit (ETU). The team had to make special arrangements to monitor those kids during the quarantine period. It was hard. Constant phone calls to them to ensure they were fine.

Ebola: many persons have died and left behind children

As time progressed during this outbreak we’ve seen how many persons have died. In some cases, they’ve left behind children. In addressing this gap, the Ministry of Health along with other partners designed the Interim Care Centres (ICCs) concept. These care centers were organized to give support to children who have been affected by the EVD. The ICCs are centres that provide shelter for Ebola orphans and children unattended when their parents are undergoing treatment in Ebola treatment units.

Two Interim Care Centers were visited by medica mondiale Liberia’s Ebola Response Team and given assorted items: toys, educational materials, clothes and small items to make the children “feel at home”.

Before the distribution, one of medica mondiale Liberia’s health volunteers reflected ‘’But we also need to give something to the children, that have been affected in some way… no mother, no father.”

Miss Yah Parwon, Head of the medica mondiale Liberia Ebola Response Team remarked “Looking at the expression on the faces of these children, all I can say we are glad to be part of putting smiles on their faces in the absence of the parents and close relatives.”

This was a chance to identify some of these children. There are many more kids out there who need help. I am reminded by the words of the late Nelson Mandela “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.” May we all be reminded with these words and improve the wellbeing of these children.

 

 

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Be safe and back to school – ensuring that schools in Liberia are Ebola free

So far, the date is set; schools should be opened in early February as declared by the Government. “We need to do something,” says Yah Parwon, Monrovia Ebola Response Team Leader of medica mondiale Liberia.

Our "Be Safe & Back to School" Awareness Campaign is aimed at supporting the Government’s effort in ensuring that schools are Ebola free. The Ministry of Education protocol for Safe School Environment in Liberia provides that certain measures be put in place before the opening of schools and after schools are re-opened to prevent the spread of Ebola. Some of these measures include temperature checks, setting-up of hand wash stations, and Ebola school committees.

medica mondiale Liberia: more than 75% of the schools assessed lacked basic control and prevention materials to fight Ebola

Having reviewed the protocol, we started up with an assessment of some of the schools nearby our offices. 12 schools were assessed during the course of last week. Alarmingly, the assessment report showed that more than 75% of the schools lacked basic control and prevention materials such as thermometers, hand wash buckets, and sanitary material.

Initiative of medica mondiale Liberia: trainings for teachers and school workers in Ebola prevention are welcomed as helpful

In addressing some of the issues identified from the assessment, our response team embarked on an initiative to supply needed materials to the schools and educating the school workers and teacher on the protocol, Ebola prevention, and use of thermometers and so on. The packages for the schools include buckets, chlorax, chlorine, hand wash soap, thermometer and a copy of the Ministry of Education Protocol.

Just after our first training, one teacher said “This is really good and helpful. We now will be able to prepare washing solution for the children when they come in next month and even take their temperature and monitor it.” In another school we worked with, the Principal stated “The training is coming at the right time, so that we know what to do when the children resume classes.”

Hopefully they will return to school and be safe.

 

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ebola crisis: rethink the timing for opening schools

Education in Liberia was seriously affected by the civil conflict and continues to suffer with low budgetary support from national budget. The recent health crisis again affected the sector.

“It’s more than 6 months that our kids have been out of school. While we want them back in school, we want them to be safe”, says one parent.

By end of November 2014, Liberia was recording a tremendous reduction in Ebola cases, people already began to celebrate. We were very excited that the nightmare was coming to an end. A few weeks later in December, we began seeing new cases of Ebola. This was no good news right after this celebration. I think, people felt relieved and let down their guard in terms of adherence to the health protocol. One lesson I have learned from the Ebola outbreak is not the number of Ebola cases count but how well one can manage the cases.

In school a cold spreads like wide fire. What about Ebola?

Just after the holding of Senators elections in December, President Sirleaf announced the reopening of schools. We welcome the statement but not the timing.“This is good news, real good news but how safe will it be for our children?”, asks my colleague.

This is really a concern. We know how it is with kids in school. For instance, when one gets a cold, it spreads like wide fire. Another parent explains: “From the first day our kids will go to school, they will be jumping to greet their friends, hugging for the long time they have been away – separated by the Ebola Virus Disease. We are not sure about the health status of these kids, we can’t be sure that it will be safe for our kids.”

While we want to educate our kids, I strongly think that the timing for reentering schools should be postponed to March/April 2015; preferably until the World Health Organization officially declares Liberia free of Ebola. In the meantime, serious attention must be paid to alternative activities for our children.

 

 

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Electioneering during the Ebola crisis just scares me

Holding elections where citizens can express their political rights is good and welcome, notwithstanding that the safety and security of the citizen must be a state priority. In my view, this is not the case with the Liberian Special Senatorial elections to elect 15 senators to be held on 16 December. This decision puts 3.4 million people at risk.

There have been many debates: Is it legal to hold the elections? The politicians will answer a quick YES while rational thinkers will say NO. But what will happen if we don't elect those 15 persons? Will the governing structure and process collapse? Can we find a solution from the Supreme Court that allows us to postpone the elections while we manage this health crisis?

President Sirleaf: Preventing a resurgence of the Ebola epidemic because of the elections

On November 19 President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in her address to the nation "These elections are important, but they are being held under very difficult circumstances. We still have the deadly Ebola virus in our country and in the neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone. This puts a new responsibility on all of us, to ensure that the political activities that will be carried out during the campaign and the voting do not lead to a resurgence of the epidemic." What was the pressure then to go ahead if the situation hasn't improved?

Election campaigns = hugging, sweat, heat = spread of Ebola

When the main opposition launched its campaign, this was when many people started panicking about the situation. There were so many people at the launch, the hugging, the sweat, the heat. Just not good or maybe better to say too good for the spread of Ebola.

It makes me scared that with the holding of this election, it could reverse the gains we have made in the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease. I am praying seriously that we can be declared unfit to hold the election by the World Health Organization very soon. We need our government to put its weight behind the health of its citizens and to give us resources, facilities and time to recover from this nightmare and heal our hearts.

 

 

 

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Meeting Walter Lindner – German Special Representative on Ebola

It was around two weeks ago when I received an E-Mail from the medica mondiale Head office in Cologne announcing the arrival of Ambassador Walter Lindner. He’s the Special Representative of the German Government for the Fight against the Ebola Epidemic, in the German Foreign Ministry to Liberia. We are very eager to meet with him and excitement is coming up.

True to his words, he meets with us on the last day of his visit. It’s an early morning meeting and we don’t want to be late. Just as we arrive in the office that morning, we find his vehicle right behind us. After introducing ourselves, we presented key issues that we feel are paramount to the current health situation in Liberia.

Talking about the Ebola crisis and the health situation in Liberia

One is about the long term support that is needed to develop the health care system in Liberia in general and particularly women’s health. I explain to him: “Imagine, we have only one public women’s health facility in Central Liberia. It’s about a 4 hours-drive from the main capital. And many people do not have the luxury to fly abroad for medical check-ups and treatment. Our health care system needs reconstruction.”

In my opinion, Ebola Virus Disease just exposes the problems of this country – whether it’s health, education, poor sanitation, etc. – it’s just terrible.

The second point we put forward was about the educational system. One main reason why there were doubts and myths about the Ebola Virus Disease clearly was the low level of education. In response, Ambassador Lindner was very impressed with the presentation and asked questions about our work and stressed Germany’s interest in supporting Liberia. We are hoping that out of this Ebola situation, Liberia can change things around. So much support is coming in. This is another chance for Liberia. I hope we make the best out of it.

 

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Supporting Survivors of Ebola: First struggle for life, then stigmatization

My phone rings. It's the Director from ELWA II - Ebola Treatment Unit in Monrovia. "Oh", he says, "we have good news from the Unit, we are about to discharge 11 survivors today and will be happy to have your team present since you have been supporting the unit with medication and other supplies."

Since the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, the fatality rate has fluctuated mostly between 50-60% indicating an increased fatality rate compared to 10% in previous outbreaks. As survivors of Ebola are being treated and discharged, one of the problems they face is stigmatization. It's quite an issue: "First we must struggle for our life, the trauma and fear of death etc. and now we must deal with how the communities accept us." The survivor continues "This is too much for us."

Three weeks ago during our field trip to South East Liberia we came across one of the survivors in River Gee County. Tetee is happy that she survived the disease but needs support. Currently she is back into her community in Kanweaken, River Gee. medica mondiale Liberia team has been working with her to support her psychosocially and financially.

Ebola survivors: It was a miracle to be alive

Yesterday one of our team members participated in the Discharge Ceremony at ELWA Ebola Treatment Unit II where the survivors - 3 women, 2 girls and 6 men - were released. When they stepped out of the unit, it was a scene to watch: looking at the faces of the families and friends who came to receive these people. It was a miracle to be alive! The scene at this unit today is much better than a few weeks ago: No sick persons are waiting to be admitted. Our last visit was a horrible scene when two women came in a taxi and there was no space to admit them. We cried but could offer no help; it felt very helpless.

Speaking to the Ebola survivors, Emily Frank, our Monitoring and Evaluation Officer encouraged them with positive words and assured them the medica mondiale counsellors will continue to work with them as they recover and provide them with solidarity packages.

 

The survivors speak*:

Tamba: “I am very thankful to the administration of this hospital, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that we recover from this sickness.”

John:”I am really thankful to the doctors, they are caring and also to God who have helped us and I am glad to be taken back in community’’

Mary: “First of all, I am thankful to God for saving us and also to the doctors. They did well for us.’’

*Survivors names have been changed.

Continuous education is needed for key communities in ending the stigmatization of these people.

 

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Liberia: women bear the brunt of the health situation during Ebola crisis

Two months ago, a woman was rejected by the Benson Hospital for lack of money (400.00 US Dollar) to perform a surgery which the doctor advised. When she could not pay, she was asked out of the hospital and she gave birth few yards away from the hospital. That story made big headlines but nothing was done to support women health in particular during this crisis. While in River Gee in the last two weeks we heard similar stories of a woman giving birth on the street because health centers were closed.

Giving birth during Ebola crisis in Liberia: struggling for life

At about 8 a.m. this morning, while heading to work we saw a group of women standing with lappas (clothes) around and they all seemed to be covering something. Out of curiosity, we stopped and walked to find out what was happening. Before we got very close to the scene, my head was spinning. I could tell what was happening from seeing the “protective shield” the woman made with their hands and lappas.

Oh no, a woman is lying on the grass in a small park giving birth, few blocks away from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. There was a midwife with gloves and a razor blade – those were the only tools she could lay her hands on. “It was happening too fast, so I just ran and got these to help this woman,” she says. Bystanders watched while she struggles for her life. Mary lost her baby on the grass full of ants but she is alive. It was a pathetic scene.

“Emergency health care for women is very critical during these times."

"No woman should experience this in this modern age." I was terrified by the scene, it made me sick and confused. “Emergency health care for women is very critical during these times”, says Korto Reeves Williams of Action Aid Liberia, when I shared the story with her on the phone.

Then the woman’s husband arrives looking very confused and worried so we discussed with him and decided to put her immediately in our vehicle and called Women Hope International, the only private women clinic in Liberia, managed by Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah. Now the woman is undergoing treatment and we’ve been told that she is responding. Slowly she speaks ”I don’t know any of the women that helped me today including the midwife but am very grateful to her and the other women for covering me up and saving my life. I’m thankful to the medica mondiale women who came to rescue.” This is a reality for many women. If this is happening in the main capital, imagine what is happening to rural areas that have limited health services.

Women Hope International Care Center – hope for women during and after Ebola

A few weeks ago, medica mondiale Liberia initiated a meeting with Dr. Jallah already foreseeing these kinds of problems that women could face. Two weeks ago, we received good news from the medica mondiale Head Office in Cologne, that funding will be given to this women hospital to fill in some of the gaps. This news calms me, some help is coming, hoping that more can come. Long-term support for women health is critical to the development of the country, during and after Ebola.

 


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Friday, November 07, 2014

Reaching the remote areas in the fight against Ebola: Sinoe County

As the Ebola Virus rages in Monrovia and other parts, Southeastern Liberia is not excluded. medica mondiale Liberia has been working in three of the five counties since 2006. Now with the news of spread of the virus to these counties that have impassable roads, this is of grave concern to us. I am asking myself “How will medical supplies get to those areas or blood samples be brought down to Monrovia for testing if there are cases of Ebola”?

So we decide on a field trip aimed at “ascertaining facts on the ground and informing our programming to the crisis”. On 24 October, I started the journey with two other colleagues: Alice and Emily. But before we left home, our families were all concerned about our safety in the field. We kindly reassured them and took off.

A long trip with terrible roads and Ebola checkpoints

We know this trip was going to be a long one – departing Monrovia via Buchanan City so we made some preparation: food, medicines and water. Oh, the fresh coconut water along the road was refreshing. As we drove through those terrible roads we had to make stops at the “Ebola checkpoints” to monitor our temperature and wash hands before we were allowed through the checkpoints. There must have been close to twenty checkpoints from Monrovia to Greenville city. I like the seriousness with which they did this. No car was allowed across if you did not follow this rule.

In Sinoe, our team met with the County Health Team to understand the situation and see where we could collaborate. Dr. Wilmot Frank, the officer in charge said that he was glad that we came and remarked that medica mondiale Liberia was one of the few NGOs that has been committed to supporting them during this crisis.

Immediate help, grateful response

We then visited a home in one of the communities which had been quarantined for some days but had no food. Immediately, we responded. Food and drug supplies were organized for this home. One neighbor who spoke on behalf of the family said “The community is very grateful that the medica mondiale Liberia team came all the way to identify with us”. In fact, according to this man they were afraid to inform NGOs about sick people as they believe this will not attract NGOs to their communties so with mmL support, they understand now that they have been harming themselves. For this community, this changed their perception about how NGOs could support in this crisis.


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Monday, October 20, 2014

Living through another day

Before dawn, I am wide awake, no sleep anymore, just recollecting the previous day’s events, news stories, phone calls from friends on their situation re how the Virus is affecting them or their families. At the same time, I am thinking about what the new day will bring. I am hoping that this new day will bring positive news/development about the crisis. My mind is struggling to absorb the experience of the last day at the same time, trying to listen to the breaking news from CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and Sky News. It’s really funny at times – scrolling thru channels to see which outlet has the “biggest headlines”. Sometimes, they carry more or less some news. Too much to start my day already so I change focus. It’s time to get ready for the work.

Ebola is everywhere: clothing, breakfast, phone calls

Now consciously I have to think about the clothing: making sure my body and feet are well covered. Then it’s breakfast time. While preparing breakfast, I remember the health talk done by one of the doctors during the Ebola briefing held daily. “Eat healthy to keep your immunity level high at this time”. On purpose, I take in more fruits, I call it the Ebola breakfast. This is not the usual breakfast I have. After this, it’s time to move.

Here comes Charlotte, our female driver to take us to work. As we go, we talk about news and other stories from the neighborhood. The other routine begins – phone calls: calling family and friends to check if they are safe and to remind them about adhering to the health protocol. Sometimes, it turns out there has been a loss, and then we mourn/sympathize on the phone. It’s a dry process, no warmth in it. Not easy.

Upon arrival at work, first thing is to wash hands at the entrance of the building. This has become a ritual before entering offices, homes, businesses etc. As I attend to work issues, we follow the stories on social media, newspapers and other sources to remain current. I do what I can do within a day. The day is done. We wait for another day.

“We are no longer living but surviving”, says a friend.