Anxiety became reality a long time ago. Without antidotes, the virus can hardly be contained. Deadly in the maximum percentage, it discloses the medical impotence and exposes the gaps of international humanitarian aid. Ebola has been spreading in West Africa since the middle of the year. There is almost no region within the boarder triangle Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that doesn’t report confirmed or suspected cases daily. Even urban census metropolitan areas such as Conakry, Monrovia and Freetown are affected intensely. The risk of infection becomes more and more unpredictable and the effects of the epidemic cannot be assessed. This means entering unknown and dangerous terrain for national as well as international assistants.
The Ebola epidemic also significantly influences our work in Sierra Leone. We have been mentoring the only pure children’s hospital in the country for more than five years. We built a home for street children in 2011 – the Pikin Paddy. But nothing is the same since the epidemic has broken out: “Our most important task now is to protect the street children that have been entrusted to us and maintain the hospital operation”, reports Dr. Werner Strahl. The Chairman of Cap Anamur already got an idea of the situation in Freetown himself. “This is the only way we can prevent children with well-treatable diseases from dying because of malaria or pneumonia.”
In order to identify cases of Ebola in our children’s hospital as early as possible, we have built a screening and isolation station within a few weeks. The patients are accommodated separately, aided and tested for Ebola under the most severe safety precautions. The newly constructed building provides enough space for 21 patients.
Our physicians and nurses face an enormous mental and physical challenge – because the risk of infection is ubiquitous. Working in protective suits bears tremendous physical strain because of the heat and is hardly possible for more than 40 minutes. The suits have to be destroyed immediately after utilization because of the high risk of infection. That is why the demand for protective clothing is extremely high – approximately 60 suits including masks, gloves and rubber boots are required for the doctors every day. At a price of 22 euros per set, the costs amount to 1,320 euros per day – only for protective clothing!
In addition to our team from Germany, our thanks go around to 100 local employees – the doctors, nurses, social workers, engineers and logisticians: They deliver basic emergency assistance in both projects.
Cap Anamur is close to the people in these times – maybe even closer than before. The decision to stay on site in this emergency situation is about our responsibility – for the people in Sierra Leone as well as for our employees. And they bear great responsibility, as well: “Every single one of us is committed to his or her team”, explained Cap Anamur physician Hawanatu Jah during an early team meeting. “Mistakes happen mainly due to fatigue or negligence. But even the smallest mistake can have devastating consequences, both for the individual personally as well as for colleagues. So we have to watch out for each other.”
Help for Ebola orphans
Our social workers have already taken in the first children who lost their parents in the Pikin Paddy. However, the amount of Ebola orphans increases with each passing day. Cap Anamur is currently setting up an additional home to accommodate and look after children who have been discharged from the treatment center because they are cured. Our team takes care of the traumatized children and offers them shelter and protection. We get support from former Ebola patients who survived the disease and are now immune to the virus.