Monday, August 25, 2014

Dispelling Ebola Myths

Jungle trek across 4 flooded rivers, up hill and down dale
to reach some of our more rural communities. 
And what an emotional roller-coaster this one is. I can go from desperate sadness to frustrated anger to laughter to pride to fear in a matter of minutes.
Hearing the confusion and panic as people ask their questions about the realities of ebola and realising how many will lose their lives, not from ebola but from fear of going to a health clinic now for treatable diseases such as malaria, is just so incredibly sad.  The chief in Maronka told me when I arrived back in Sierra Leone that he knew I really loved Sierra Leone now, because I had come back to die with them!  Yes I love Sierra Leone and Yes, I love the Maronka community but No, I have not come back to die yet! The weight of the fear even in communities that are so so unlikely to come into contact with the disease, is incredible.  I have met one person since coming back who has ever met anyone who has met anyone who has had ebola.  She was a nurse training nurses and some of her students continued to treat people at home, despite clear advice not to.  Two of them died. Although we operate in the Port Loko District and there have been over 30 cases there now, they are far from where we work.  They are all focused around a hospital to which a number of Guinean patients came to see a particular Doctor who worked there.  This hospital is an hour's drive from where we work.
The irresponsible, in my view, reporting by the vast majority of the media will kill so many more people than ebola will.  When British Airways chose to stop flying to Sierra Leone and Liberia, the wave of panic that swept the country was incredible. And, as nearly all the foreigners that could, fled the country or cancelled their returns, what are the Sierra Leoneans to think but that ebola is indeed lurking behind every tree to catch them? I have not succeeded terribly well in controlling my anger at the lack of thinking that goes into sensationalising this situation. It has taken us over a decade to start to rebrand Sierra Leone as other than that country where people have their hands chopped off!  How long will it take us to rebrand after the panic-mongering from ebola?
The other anger making aspect is the corruption fiesta going on as government members fight each other for a slice of the ebola money pie!  How terrible and how hard to watch!
Since coming back on 9th August, I have been going from one EducAid site to another to clarify three simple messages:
1 Ebola is real (and not a government ploy to get money from donor countries or a trick by health workers to be able to harvest organs or any of the other conspiracy stories in circulation).
2 Ebola is avoidable. You have to be in direct physical contact with the body fluid of a seriously sick infected ebola patient or infected corpse. That means that if you are not a health worker or taking care of a sick person at home, you are very very unlikely to get it but to be doubly sure, avoid unnecessary travelling around the country and unnecessary touching: greet with your hand on your heart rather than shaking hands etc.
3 Ebola is survivable.  There are well over 200 Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone. If you report quickly, you are likely to survive because you will get treatment quickly. If you don't report you will likely die but it will more probably be of malaria or some other treatable illness than of ebola anyway. With any symptoms, get yourself to a clinic for treatment and call 117 if there are problems.
As we tell people these simple messages, we can see the tension in the room drop and people thank us profusely for coming with the information and making things clear to them.
And when we are tired from our trekking and our talking, all we need is a little bit of running in the rain, slipping and sliding in the mud to cheer us up and to have us laughing at the normal joys of life!
I am one very lucky woman to have such an amazing team of committed staff and students who love their country and believe in their ability to make a difference to situations by their love, integrity, determination and education! I am more than ever proud of the EducAid team.
This is a setback for Sierra Leone but we will survive and EducAid will continue to fight for thinking education for all.
If you read nothing else on ebola, I would like to recommend a really excellent article.  Please do read it and spread it far and wide.  It has such a helpful perspective:
If you would like to know more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to

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