When a call comes in to report a suspected Ebola case, Sierra Leone’s national Ebola response system kicks into high gear immediately.
An ambulance and team of health care workers are dispatched to the site to transport the sick person to an Ebola treatment unit. As a precautionary measure, the patient’s family members are isolated in their home and monitored over 21 days — the period of time when an infected person is most likely to show symptoms of Ebola.
Even when this response system works perfectly, it can take a few hours or sometimes a day due to the remote area for the ambulance to arrive with a team of health care workers appropriately clad in personal protective equipment. Without protective suits, gloves and other equipment, it is dangerous to care for an Ebola-infected person.
Untrained and inadequately protected caregivers risk exposure to the Ebola virus when they come into contact with a sick person’s vomit, diarrhea and other bodily fluids. If caregivers clean or even hug a loved one who has fallen ill, they could be contracting this life-threatening disease themselves.
To ensure that no well-meaning caregiver falls victim to Ebola, USAID is collaborating with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Medair and Lifeline to deliver life-saving interim care kits to families across Sierra Leone.
The kits contain critical supplies like bleach, oral rehydration salts, chlorine, soap, and gloves. Although this kit is simple, it can make the difference between life and death for caregivers.
“These kits can save lives,” says the USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) Deputy Team Leader Sonia Walia. “Family members want to help their loved ones when they’re sick, so we need to give them the tools to do so safely. These kits are able to keep loved ones from getting sicker while also making sure caregivers are protected.”
Because people infected by Ebola lose large amounts of body fluids, extreme dehydration quickly deteriorates their health. Oral rehydration salts in USAID’s interim kits stabilize sick patients and offer victims the best chance of survival while they wait for an ambulance and health workers to arrive.
As the rainy season approaches, some remote areas of Sierra Leone will be almost impossible to access by road and air traffic. Reaching these remote communities to deliver interim care kits is more critical now than ever.
In Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown, USAID is working alongside our partners to deliver these interim kits — along with fresh produce and other food items — to families that are quarantined in their homes.
A day out for delivery
As part of USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team, I recently joined IOM, Medair and Lifeline to deliver kits to homes in the Moa Wharf neighborhood of Freetown. After reviewing the plan for the day, the Lifeline teams led us downhill into the Moa Wharf neighborhood — a dense community with narrow alleys locatable only with a local guide.
The Lifeline team members knew the area well because of their ongoing work in the neighborhood. Every day, they visit the area so they can rapidly identify and isolate suspected Ebola cases.
We soon reached the edge of a wide, muddy, trash-covered shore that stretched out towards the Atlantic Ocean. In a little while, we would make a delivery to a home that reported a suspected case of Ebola in their household.
After pausing outside the home, a group of young men and one young woman shuffled out. We offered a round of warm greetings to one another, which the Lifeline team translated from Krio to English and back again.
The Lifeline team gave them a care kit — delivered in a set of bright red buckets — and explained how to use the contents if Ebola symptoms appeared. As we moved on to the next quarantined home, one of the young men raised the two red buckets over his head like a trophy as we departed ways for another delivery.
The spread of the Ebola virus is due in large part to a uniquely human tendency: the desire to care for sick loved ones.
By equipping communities with the tools they need to protect themselves against contracting Ebola, we are not only stopping the spread of the outbreak, but encouraging communities to support each other in difficult times.