Thursday, January 29, 2015

Surviving Ebola: Remy Watt

Suma, our site coordinator for EducAid Rogbere, met with Remy Watt. Remy is a strong woman and the eldest in the Rogbere community. This is Suma’s telling of her story:

“I was living with my family in Rogbere when I first heard about EducAid. It seemed so far away at first. We seemed very isolated from the disease and we didn’t know what was happening in our country. We heard some news on the radio that Ebola was in Sierra Leone but we didn’t know what to believe, or if it was real. It was some weeks before Ebola got close to us and we became very scared.

It was towards the end of the year that my cousin contracted Ebola. We do not know where she picked it up, or if she had attended some funerals of the dead and had been involved in the washing and burials. By that point we had heard much about how to not catch Ebola on the radio, but it was the visits from the EducAid teams that made us understand the dangers fully. Because Ebola does not show symptoms of the virus for many days, it feels like the virus is a secret killer and we are all in danger. It makes everyone nervous to meet with other people, and the community felt very strained. People were even saying that I had Ebola because my cousin had the disease, and I felt very bad for this. I did spend some time with my cousin before she was confirmed Ebola positive, and the rumours that were in the community made me worried that I did catch the virus. The EducAid team gave us very good advice; they said that the disease is actually difficult to catch if we follow the easy procedure: ABC; Avoid Bodily Contact. The EducAid staff also told us not to go to any funerals, even if we thought that they had not died from Ebola. Becuase the community will turn against a family with Ebola, many people are not being truthful about the cause of death and are making it difficult to see the truth from lies. The EducAid gave very simple advice: do not visit people with suspected Ebola. She was my closest family member and she was sending messages to me to visit her at the time of her illness.

On EducAid’s advice, i did not go to the funeral. Their sensitisation meetings not only warned me of the danger that our funerals held, but explained why, and I did not want to endanger myself, my family, or to let down EducAid. So far I have done everything I can to avoid Ebola. I have done everything that EducAid and the government radio shows have told me. I have not touched any sick people; I have restricted my movement outside the village. I frequently use chlorine, keeping my compound clean and avoid incoming visitors. Most importantly, the house to house sensitisation and barrier nursing techniques that were given to us by the EducAid teachers has helped me to avoid this. I have been getting educational information from the radio, but the information given by EducAid teachers help me and my family greatly.

EducAid has helped me so much that I wish we have more of this kind of organisations in my country. EducAid has helped us to be safe and happy at this time. The house to house talk created more awareness than ever. We are proud of having EducAid. The temperature check which they introduced, gives more confidence to me and my family. They are doing a great job. The sensitization about barrier nursing I only got from EducAid teachers; I have not heard of it even from the national radio. Without their help I would have only been able to rely on the radio, and this would not have made any where near the same impact on my family and community as EducAid has.

I am still worried for the challenges that Sierra Leone faces. They are numerous, for instance: the economy is slowing down, the educational system is on stand still, the rate of teenage pregnancy is on the increase. Traditional practices like hand shaking, washing of the dead and refusing to attend funeral ceremonies that are so important to our society have been stopped. We can feel the society being stretched again, like in the war, and it is something that I fear for a great deal.”

In an honest interview, Remy Watt has encapsulated the impact that EducAid is having on those communities that are facing Ebola head-on. The national radio is doing a great job of spreading broad measures on how to avoid catching Ebola, but personal instruction is always going to have a greater impact. It should come as no surprise that the EducAidians are doing a fantastic job in the sensitisation of rural communities. We are a network of teachers, and educating people with illustrative lessons is really the core of our purpose. Unfortunately, the application of these skills has had to be diverted to Ebola and away from education, but we collectively wish forward to the day that we can go back to improving our society through academic education rather than combatting another setback.

We’re fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Lasting Impact: the Quality Enhancement Programme

Few things illustrate the impact of our school’s education greater than the existence of our Quality Enhancement Programmes, the QEP & QEPM. Sierra Leonean schools from around the country request EducAid to run these in-depth training courses. In the programme for Junior Secondary Schools (QEP), and for Primary Schools (QEPM) our team trains teachers, principles and communities in a collaborative approach to engaging students whilst simultaneously developing their curriculums for educational and personal student growth. The importance that EducAid lays on the latter of these two aspects is the core of our holistic programme of learning.
In both of our programmes, we focus the teachers on their subject content, and introduce active and participatory methodologies whilst ensuring that teachers are delivering 100% accurate content. We believe that discipline is a personal choice on the part of students, and not one to be forced through sanctions or violence. By providing students with an engaging environment and empowering them with choice, we see a much greater participation and ownership of studies. Children and students are the same the world over – if you allow them to actively engage with a subject, both through the methodology and active participation, they will invariably contribute in a much more sincere and dedicated manner.
Going further than the content and methodologies of their education, we also ask teachers to challenge social inequalities within the classroom. We believe that, by addressing gender imbalance from within schools, we can initiate a major cultural change in the next generation of Sierra Leoneans. Below is a more detailed overview of the programmes and their impact.
Quality Enhancement Programme
The QEP focuses on the course and content of classes. Because education has so long been neglected in Sierra Leone, the QEP has enabled us to instrument changes for huge number of children.
This programme has significance for over 1850 girls and 1500 boys, making a total of over 3350 children from 13 schools in rural Port Loko and 1 from Kono.
Quality Enhancement Programme in Maronka for primary schools
The Quality Enhancement Programme in Maronka is a support programme for primary schools wishing to partner with EducAid with the intention of enhancing the quality of the teaching and learning in their schools. The idea of the QEPM is to engage with the whole school and community to encourage all actors to step up their game and ensure that the students get the best possible education.
After an initial engagement with the community, principal and staff, class teachers are invited to the Maronka Teacher Training Centre for one-week training sessions in literacy teaching followed by one-week training sessions in numeracy teaching. These sessions are designed for classes 1 and 2 teachers together and then classes 3 and 4 with the final session for teachers of classes 5 and 6.
Once the teachers have gone back to their schools, EducAid staff go to spend a day in each participating school in order to see the impact of the trainings. Very quickly, we have found that there are significant changes in all participating schools and that there is great appreciation from both staff and students.

Despite the chaos of Ebola, EducAid has continued these programmes while schools are closed. We have identified this window as an opportunity to instil these good practices in to the teachers whilst they are unoccupied by day-to-day duties of the classroom.
Recently, we applied to the EU for a grant to boost this programme and last week we were approved for the project. They will be part-funding some of our operations in this project; for us, it’s not only the financial support that is positive, but the recognition of the good work that we are doing is pleasing for the whole organisation. This grant will enable us to further spread the experience and success that EducAid has seen in the past to new schools in the future.
Exciting times ahead. We’ll bring you updates on the QEP and QEPM over the coming months to keep you up to date with how we are impacting Sierra Leone as a whole.
You can begin to see the ways in which we are building Sierra Leone for a better future after Ebola. Whilst the EU grant will help us to propel this programme throughout the country, we will not be able to use any of this money to boost our #AfterEbola programmes.
With 14 of students currently in quarantine, our OICC is running near capacity. We desperately need your support to continue these massive steps we’re taking to stopping Ebola in Sierra Leone.
If you are in a position to help us, please donate now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Impact of the OICC

If you have been following the progress of the Ebola outbreak, you’ll know that all of the schools in Sierra Leone are closed. Recently, President Ernest Bai Koroma issued an instruction that no schools would be opened until the WHO declares Sierra Leone free from Ebola. Whilst you may find this a distressing announcement, we really back this move from the President. 

Rushing children back to their schools could further destabilise the situation, and send the Ebola situation in to further decline. We are very conscious that few schools have staff as well-trained, and facilities as well-prepared as EducAid, and we would hate to see children pay the price for a premature return. Although it does mean that most children are not accessing an education and routine that is essential for personal and societal growth, those prerogatives should not be at the cost of more lives.

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you will know that our teaching staff have been engaged in a number of activities during the Ebola outbreak. Our pioneering Education by Podcast programme is reaching hundreds of students living at home, while teachers across our network are running Ebola sensitisation meetings with local communities to provide training and support to those in the firing line. Through these programmes we have helped to slow the progress of the virus through our most natural means of work – education.

Just before the New Year we received some fantastic news: our Interim Care Centres were approved for operation by the district, and we began to take in orphans of Ebola for care, quarantine, and eventual integration in to our schools. The Observational Interim Care Centre (OICC) is where we take in high-risk orphans for the mandatory quarantine period of 21 days. In a previous post I explained the processes by which we ensure medical security for the orphans and care staff, but today I want to give you a fuller overview of exactly how we operate these centres, and what progress we have achieved.

The OICC in Rolal currently has 80 students in the centre, 51 boys and 29 girls. During it’s operation we have discharged more than 30 young people. Most of those discharged orphans have come in to our schools, whilst some have returned back to their communities. Miriam has said that the entrant’s states’ of mind vary, but that most are amazingly cheerful and positive. The welcoming embrace of the EducAid community is a wonderfully calming and settling presence for these children. There was always bound to be a few tears when youngsters like this have been through what they have been, but the staff have helped them to settle very quickly.

Miriam implemented a lot of work in to preparing the other students for our new entrants’ integration in to the schools. This solid groundwork has ensured that there has been no problem assimilating the new students, and that none of the existing students presume any of the stigma that so frequently surrounds an Ebola survivor. This in itself is a great success for Miriam and her team. She says that there have been absolutely no problems concerning stigmatisation, and that all have quickly been befriended and integrated in to the classes.

The OICC students are not without problems, however. The need for Sierra Leoneans to send off their deceased in the right manner is something which we investigated in a previous post, and despite education it continues to pose problems today. In fact, Miriam mentioned that some of the kids have received calls from relatives about sacrifices or ceremonies for deceased family members. She says that calls like these upset the children greatly, even to the point where one whole family left so that they could participate. We have no idea what situation they will face when they get return to their homes, or what sort of funeral rites they will be participating in, but we have to respect their own personal wishes even if it means that they put themselves directly in harm’s way.

Behind the scenes, the OICCs require a huge amount of work. Whilst Miriam laid the initial groundwork, Amadu Kamara, better known as AK to EducAid, is our representative and Miriam’s right-hand man for the OICC with respect to the district authorities. Every month AK attends meetings with the district Ebola response coordinator, a UN rep, the WHO, the WFP, UNICEF, Goal, the IRC, and Oxfam on behalf of WATSAN. Collectively, this is the district’s Ebola Response Task Force.

At these meetings the group discusses emerging issues from around the district, and any actions being taken to deal with the problems. The attendees of these meetings have been incredibly responsive to the work that EducAid are doing, and have had very good things to say.

The OICC itself is subject to inspections from a number of bodies, including the Ministry of Social Welfare, the WHO, and the DHMT. Typically, these inspections centre on disease protection and control as well as child protection and welfare. So far, EducAid’s facilities and care has been exemplary. The WHO official that came round to inspect the OICC was so impressed that she donated $1000 USD of her own personal money for us to continue our work. If there was ever a testament to the good work that EducAid is doing, then I believe that is it.

The work that we are doing for the orphans of Ebola is impacting hundreds of lives and has been given the backing of the biggest aid organisations in the world. This is an amazing feat for a charity that is backed, primarily, by our loyal and committed community of donors. Having observed the volume of money piled in to West Africa over the past months, it is amazing to see that with such a modest amount of money we can initiate so much change.

We are immensely proud that the effect of our #AfterEbola programme will be felt for many years to come. Not only are we helping the most vulnerable members of society escape the direct effects of Ebola, but we are providing them with the future of education. Miriam is so right when she writes that ‘education is hope’, and with EducAid’s programmes we are making hope a reality. This is happening right now, and we can’t do it without your support. Please consider making a donation so that we can continue our programme to alleviate the impact of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Your money could not go further elsewhere.

You can show your support by donating to our #AfterEbola programme here, and by sharing our stories on our facebook here.

We’re fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rogbere: Giving Thanks

EducAid’s Rogbere School was founded in 2010 and usually educates more than 320 students. In 2013, A Call to Business built and opened a home for orphans, many of who are disabled in one way or another, next to the school. We are delighted to be providing education to some of these youngsters.

Unfortunately, numbers in the school now stand at only 46 – 32 boys and 14 girls – around 15% of it’s usual contingent. With 19 staff present, the numbers have remained high despite student numbers dropping. There is a real risk of losing these valuable teachers to other schools or industries, so we have decided that it is most important to keep them in our employ so that we can begin straight back with educating our students once the outbreak has been declared over.

There is, however, no chance for EducAid staff to have been sitting on their laurels. Through our Education by Podcast programme, and our Ebola sensitisation drives, they have been working tirelessly to combat the effects and spread of Ebola. All staff are also working to personal study targets and a professional development programme has been running for all staff throughout the State of Emergency

Suma is the site coordinator at Rogbere School, and this week he spoke with Chief Alie Conteh about the situation in Rogbere community.

As Chief, it is Alie Conteh’s duty to look after the 500 people in his community and to ensure their wellbeing. He has worked with Miriam, Suma, and EducAid to ensure that there is a good relationship between the schools and the community, ensuring that both parties benefit from the relationship. Thank you Suma for the insightful questioning.

As a chief, how did you feel when you heard about Ebola?
I felt bad. Ebola is a killer disease. We pray every day for the end of this sickness. If Ebola enters your house, everybody will die. I am in great fear.

What are the main challenges in your community during this Ebola period?
Soooo many, my brother. The first one is medical facilities, second is our basic food due to the persistent lock down. Nobody is allowed to go to Freetown and nobody from Freetown to visit you. Even if you prepare a small garden to sustain yourself, there will be no way to sell the produce because the roads are blocked.

What strategies have you put in place for the community to be safe since the beginning of this outbreak?
We are very lucky to have EducAid here. When the Ebola disease came down to Freetown, Suma called a meeting of all the elders in the community. Miriam was there and explained to us some of the precautionary measures we should put in place to stop the disease from coming our way. I have also ensured that we do in my community what the president is asking us to do and it is going on well, for instance: frequent hand washing, remembering Sierra Leone in our prayers, and so on. EducAid teachers are doing an awareness every Monday and temperature checking which gives every body hope and confidence in the community

Have you heard of any suspected cases of Ebola?
No. I have not heard of any one in my community.

How about the neighbouring communities?
Yes. Many of them, even one very close to us here in Fogbo village.

And what was your reaction?
Checkpoints to and from the village were installed. Compulsory hand-washing to all passers-by was instituted.

How many people have died during this period in your community? And how did you bury them?
I know of one woman. When I was told about her death I called 117, the alert centre number which was given to us. While waiting for them, some of the family members washed and dressed the corpse. That was the unfortunate thing I heard about some of the people in my village.

So what did you do when you got that information?
Initially, there was a meeting we held up at the school with EducAid teachers and the community elders. We agreed on certain bye-laws and that violators of any of the laws should pay a fine of le 500,000. Such is one of the laws, therefore the fine was levied and a quarantined period of 7 days was given to the family.

What was her lab result?
They said it was not Ebola.

Do you have support from the government with chlorine, veronica buckets, or infrared thermometer as they use in other communities?
No. we have never benefited from any of these, except that A Call to Business gave us some thermometers for which we are very grateful.

Do you have any organisation working in your community? If yes, how have they helped in protecting your community?
Yes. A Call to Business, EducAid, and Corner Stone. EducAid has been very instrumental in educating us about Ebola. They actually made us, and me in particular, see the seriousness of this disease. We appreciate them, and God will bless them for that. Second is A Call to Business; they sent us thermometers, a few veronica buckets, and chlorine; we thank them also.

And Corner Stone?
They have not done anything concerning this Ebola for us.

How do you think the community will be after Ebola?
Happy, and I want to give many thanks to my people for making sure we are safe throughout the outbreak.

How would you assess EducAid to other organisations that you know?
We are poor, we do not have anything, but they are ready to help the community. EducAid is a good organisation for us and we are happy to be with them. We say many thanks to Miriam and the teachers.

Reading the Chief’s words reiterates how important EducAid’s impact is on the small localities where we run our Ebola Sensitisation – and there are many, but also how little support these rural communities are receiving in advance of the spread of Ebola. The response effort has been a constant game of catch-up from both the government and the international community. Despite the great work of charities like EducAid and A Call to Business, the lack of education that persists in the country reveals a distrust of those trying to help, and an inability or unwillingness to follow the procedures that can be life saving. It is only through the outreach programmes such as our Ebola sensitisation that we can reinforce the importance of following such measures.

We hope that you can see the true value of the work that we are doing at EducAid. We’ve had to find new ways to help the most vulnerable members of society, but we can see our work having important and lasting impact.

We’re fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A World Free from Ebola: the Vaccines

It has been widely reported in the press that a new vaccine trial has entered the second round of testing at Oxford University in the UK. Now that reserves of the once-hailed ZMAPP vaccine have run out, the focus of attention has shifted to the major pharmaceutical companies that are working hard to develop a vaccine to stem the tide of Ebola.

I thought that it would be worthwhile to investigate how these drugs are brought to market, and what their impact would be on the situation today, in the coming months, and for the world in the future. Whilst many understand the benefits of a vaccine, it is an alarmingly complex and expensive process for these private companies to embark on, and one that we should all understand our role in facilitating.

How do we combat Ebola currently?
It is well documented that the survival rate of Ebola in Western countries is significantly higher than that in West Africa. The quality of healthcare, an immediate interest in controlling the disease, and the provision of newly developed drugs have all helped to achieve this. Key to achieving a higher survival rate in West Africa has been an early identification of the virus, whilst the provision of fluids and antibiotics dramatically increase the chance of survival. Sufferers of Ebola can lose up to 10 litres of liquids per day through bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhoea, so by replenishing these lost fluids we can help to stop the collapse of vital organs and a further decline of the immune system.

With the healthcare facilities receiving the greatest attention from the world media, it is easy to forget that a portion of the response effort and funding is going in to developing technologies and medicines. In this post we will cover many of the current developments and experimental landscape in the fight against Ebola.

In terms of technology, there is a 15-minute Ebola test being developed by the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) went on trial in Guinea in October.[1] The test kit is similar to a pregnancy test and requires only a drop or two of blood or urine to work; we are still awaiting the results of the trial. Simultaneously, a team out of MIT is developing nanotechnology to be able to print active molecules on to paper, to which the Ebola virus will stick. [2] The objective is to have these pieces of paper, similar to a litmus test strip, stored in every First Aid Kit in the region. What is notable and progressive about both of these technologies is that they are designed to be near-immediate low-tech solutions administered at the point of care. This would enable medical staff to isolate and treat the patient whilst avoiding a risky visit to an Ebola treatment centre and potentially further contagion.

Pertinent to this article was the announcement that the World Health Organisation has agreed that it is ethical to use unproven drugs in the current epidemic.[3] This has paved the route for medical trials and experimental drug administration. Whilst in theory this can be lifesaving, the administration of these drugs in a non-laboratory testing environment leads to it’s own issues. In the cases where these innovative drugs have been used, the recipients have been receiving a combination of care and therefore it is difficult to identify which is the active agent in saving them from the virus. For example, Will Pooley, the first NHS health worker to have contracted the virus, was administered the drug ZMAPP along with 7 other Ebola sufferers. Pooley survived, unfortunately two of the seven didn’t. This highlights that the drugs developed are, firstly, not a cure, and secondly, have not achieved the consistency to be called a treatment. In many cases, it is considered that the strength of the patient’s own immune system has, in fact, been a major contributory factor.

What are the options?
Aside from developing drugs, there is another kind of experimental treatment that has gained traction over the last few weeks: convalescent therapies. Convalescent therapy is the process of injecting blood from recovered patients into sick patients, and has had promising results. The New York Times writes that WHO officials are prioritising blood and plasma therapies for treatment, but there are major questions about its safety and efficacy in countries with inefficient health systems and a shortage of medical staff.[4]

As these convalescent therapies are beginning to be instrumented, although it is not clear how widely or effectively, the pharmaceutical companies are drawing on a mix of historical research and international funding in the race to develop an Ebola vaccine. There are three drugs currently on trial that look most likely for a near-future breakthrough.

ZMapp is, for now, out of the picture; there are no more stocks anywhere in the world. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has promised the company more than $42m (£27.6m) to speed up production and trials, but the drug consists of three monoclonal antibodies that have to be grown in the leaves of genetically modified tobacco plants, which takes months. It is also very expensive, which means that mass production for Africa is unlikely.[5]

The centre for Infectious Disease Research & Policy reports that the vaccine currently being trialled at Oxford University is being developed by Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. Another drug is being developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) named ChAD3, and another developed by Canadian researchers and licensed by NewLink Genetics and Merck named VSV-EBOV – these latter two are on phase 1 trials as well.

The preclinical studies of the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that, when given 2 months apart, completely protected nonhuman primates against death from the Kikwit Zaire strain of the virus.[6]

According to a statement on their website, the GSK drug ChAd3 uses a type of chimpanzee cold virus, known as chimpanzee adenovirus type 3, as a carrier to deliver genetic material from two strains of the Ebola virus – the Sudan strain and the Zaire strain. It goes on to say that first results show that the vaccine was well-tolerated and produced an immunological response in each of the 20 healthy adult volunteers.[7]

The VSV-EBOV vaccine is made from another virus, V.S.V., for vesicular stomatitis virus that has been used successfully in making other vaccines. The researchers altered V.S.V. by removing one of its genes — rendering the virus harmless — and inserting a gene from Ebola. The transplanted gene forces V.S.V. to sprout Ebola proteins on its surface.[8]

All of the above drugs have had some success in vaccinating primates from the Ebola virus, and all have very different methods of application, so it will be interesting to see which wins the race to market. It is, indeed, the market to which they are heading: we all know that producing drugs is a business, naturally based on profit rather than humanitarian concern, but it is interesting to read about the costs and funding. The development process highlights the central role of NGOs and governments alongside the big pharmaceutical companies.

What are the costs and benefits of developing drugs?
Mahga Kamal-Yanni, Oxfam’s senior health-policy advisor says that “large companies will not invest in research and development for rare and neglected diseases, due to the limited scope for profit. It is neither ethical nor sustainable to leave decisions and financing for research and development to be dictated by the commercial interests of pharmaceutical companies. They will continue producing the medicines that can make the highest profits rather than the therapies that are desperately needed for public health.”[9]

In a New York Times article, Dr. Thomas Geisbert, a member of the team that initially undertook the research on the VSV-EBOV drug 12 years ago, explains the cost-need ratio of the drug industry, and outlines why it has taken so long for his research to be utilised. In this excerpt, he begins talking about the point where he left the drug, after the first round of small trials had been undertaken.

“To that point, the research may have cost a few million dollars, but tests in humans and scaling up production can cost hundreds of millions, and bringing a new vaccine all the way to market typically costs $1 billion to $1.5 billion, Dr. Crowe said. “Who’s going to pay for that?” he asked. “People invest in order to get money back.”[10]

The answer to that question is resolved by the appearance of epidemics such as Ebola. The landscape of research and development funding in a time of crisis makes the pharmaceutical companies more inclined to embark on these ventures. Take, for example, the GSk drug ChAd3. Despite the testing process becomes significantly de-regulated - as pointed out by the WHO announcement on the ethics of administering untested drugs - the big pharmaceutical companies are provided with funds to undertake the development. A high-level emergency meeting between WHO officials and other key players in October insisted that “funding issues should not be allowed to dictate the vaccine agenda.” The minutes concluded that “The funds will be found.”[11] It was announced that for the latest round of testing in Oxford, not to be confused with the Johnson & Johnson testing set underway this week, GSK received a £2.8 million grant from an international consortium consisting of the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The GSK website explains that the consortium’s funding will also enable them to begin manufacturing up to around 10,000 additional doses of the vaccine at the same time as the initial clinical trials, so that if the trials are successful stocks could then be made available immediately by GSK to the WHO to create an emergency immunisation programme for high-risk communities.[12]

Whether you agree with the decision to provide financial and resource-incentive to big pharmaceutical companies, there is little other choice. When the world is gripped by an outbreak on this scale, it is for the international community to financially incentivise those private companies that have the capacity and knowledge to do this.

If we create an effective drug, what is the likely effect on the current outbreak?
Firstly, it is worth noting that vaccines are generally designed to prevent diseases rather than to cure them. However, as may have been in the case of ZMAPP, there is the hope that these vaccines will also have a curative element to them. Only testing and time will answer this question.

GSK writes on their website that, if the phase 1 trials are successful, they can begin the next phases of the clinical trial programme which will involve the vaccination of thousands of frontline healthcare workers in the three affected countries – Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. If the vaccine candidate is able to protect these healthcare workers, it could significantly contribute to efforts to bring this epidemic under control.[13]

A widespread vaccination of medical staff and general public throughout West Africa would paralyse Ebola in it’s tracks. It would represent a cataclysmic blow to the spread of the virus, and would effectively render the crisis over. However, this would not be the end of the vaccine. If this crisis has showed us anything, it is that an early and coordinated response effort is key to controlling the virus and it’s spread.

In 2010 the Sierra Leonean statehouse introduced the Free Health Care Policy which aimed particularly to provide care and protection to mothers and children under 5. As part of this programme, the administration of a a Pentavalent vaccine which is five individual vaccines conjugated in one actively protecta infant children from 5 potentially deadly diseases: Haemophilus Influenza type B (the bacteria that causes meningitis, pneumonia and otitis), Whooping Cough (or Pertussis), Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Diphtheria. In the wake of the Free Health Care Policy, immunisation has been taken up well with 75% of relevant age-groups receiving the immunisation, according to a WHO report. Whether the Ebola vaccine is one that could be added to this mixture, or administered alongside it remains to be seen, and will depend largely on cost and access. What is certain is that the development of a vaccine will be useful in beating the current outbreak and any future outbreaks of this vicious virus.

It is unfortunate that the mechanisms of pharmaceutical development dictate that it takes an epidemic of this proportion to engage the research and development required. However, we should be thankful that the systems and funding are in place to do such development. It will be a long and lasting development that will continue to have positive implications for the future. It will be down the governments of not only West Africa, but all of those countries in Africa where bush meat remains a part of daily life, to ensure that national stocks are maintained to avoid any future Ebola crisis.

Vaccines are in development, and it is surely only a matter of time until they are available for widespread use. Until that point, we must remain on our course of localised isolation, care, and treatment of those pooor souls who contracted Ebola

We’re fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help.







Monday, January 5, 2015

4Ms Fighting Ebola: Alfred J Fornah

Alfred J Fornah is a teacher at the Mafoimba School, one of our 4Ms in the Tonkolil district. Mafoimba is a product of our partnership with Make It Happen, a fruitful joint venture that has seen us open 4 schools in one of the most isolated districts in Sierra Leone. As explained in our previous post, the 4Ms schools have been deserted from the beginning of the Ebola outbreak because none of our students are residents at these schools. Instead, our students are having to fend for themselves within their own communities; far from access to education, and from the safety of EducAid, these students are some of the most at-risk within our network.

Our number one priority throughout this Ebola outbreak has been to protect our existing students. Primarily this has been focussed within our schools by restricting movement to that which is absolutely necessary for the continuation of our education, but for those schools that do not have a standing residency of home students we have had to develop more innovative ways to achieve this objective.

Under the careful guidance of Miriam, and by following the strict guidelines of the CDC and WHO, our 4Ms staff have been undertaking a number of Ebola sensitisations throughout the region and surrounding areas. These sensitisations take the education and practical expertises that we know about combatting Ebola, and teaching this to rural communities. In effect, by providing clear information and a practical education to these areas, we are empowering them to protect themselves.

Last week our 4Ms coordinator, Pires, interviewed Alfred J Fornah, a teacher at Mafoimba, so that he could tell us his story. Alfred’s own experience of Ebola has meant that his mission to spread careful information is a personall one: at the beginning of the outbreak Alfred lost his pregnant wife and 1 year old son to this deadly virus. These are exactly the kind of totally avoidable deaths that we are trying to avoid by undertaking our sensitisations.

This is what he Alfred had to say about the work the he and other EducAid staff are doing in Tonkolili.

What is your name, and where are you from?
My name is Alfred J fornah, and I am from Magbaki village, Kolifa Mabang chiefdom in the Tonkolili district. Currently, I live at Mathele Bana village at Mafoimba School.

What are the basic methods to prevent Ebola?
Avoid eating bush meat, especially bats, monkeys and chimpanzees. Avoid public gathering, body contact, and especially important is to not touch the dead and the sick. Anyone suffering from the disease should be isolated, movement should be restricted, and frequent hand-washing with chlorinated water and soap. Frequent taking of malaria drugs like Metaprim helps to prevent malaria, which is often mistaken as one of the symptoms of Ebola.

Can you show us what teaching materials you use to help you to prevent Ebola.
These are the kinds of materials that are circulated to educate people about Ebola.

This is Pires with chlorinated water tanks, ready to distribute to needy communities.

Do you think that the lessons are helping local communities protect themselves?
Yes, the lessons are really helpful to the teachers and the communities as well. I have now taught a very good number of people how to avoid Ebola and what to do if people are showing symptoms.

How has EducAid helped you to keep safe?
We have learnt much through the Ebola sensitization workshop in Port Loko with Miriam, Pires, and Easy man in September. The restriction of my movement to public places, provision of soap and water, Chlorine and drugs. The drugs have been especially helpful for illnesses such as malaria, head aches and stomach aches because they are all often mistaken for symptoms of Ebola. EducAid deems it necessary to give all of these in order to protect its people, both teachers and staff in the community.

What would you have done without EducAid, would you have been able to protect yourself from Ebola?
I would have had to just rely on the Government information and personal preventions, but thank God for EducAid’s country director and the board of trustees for their good support that they have given to us.

What do you think about the work that EducAid is doing against Ebola?
Really, EducAid is doing an excellent work in Sierra Leone in the fight against Ebola. Most especially our Country Director, Miriam Mason-Sesay, who sacrificed herself to see that she protect her students, teachers, and people in the community in the prevention of Ebola.

What are the biggest challenges the country faces regarding Ebola?
There is no education in the country which has led to many dropouts. General hardships include unemployment, closing down of businesses, and people suffering from hunger because they are not allow to move from one place to another. The rate of teenage pregnancy is increasing every day and development activities going on in the country have completely stopped. All of these things are very worrying.

Alfred J Fornah demonstrates the resolve that resides within each and every Sierra Leonean; all that we can do is to give them the tools and support to empower themselves. Imagine losing your wife or husband and new-born; rather than being lost in grief and self-pity, to take arms against the very virus that stole these loved ones from you. It is something that we would all aspire to do, but I wonder how many of us would be able to stomach it. 

Fear is all around, but the fight within Sierra Leone is stronger than Ebola. The recent Civil War that saw such atrocities come from within the country has steeled this nation against attack: Sierra Leone will come out of this fighting, we just need to make sure that the fewest number of innocent people die in the process.

We’re fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help. Donate here

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Surviving Ebola: Salamatu Conteh

Salamatu Conteh is a student at EducAid. Over the past few weeks I have asked all of our Site Coordinators to find people who have directly experienced the effects of Ebola, and to interview them so that we can tell their story. Brima is one of EducAid’s most senior staff in Sierra Leone, and he has undertaken a really honest interview with Salamatu so that we can truthfully and faithfully tell her story.

Salamatu’s story is one that encapsulates the human struggle of Ebola; the human struggle that many media outlets forget to tell: that of loss, and of mourning. Fortunately, Salamatu had an education and a home to return to – something that many Sierra Leonean children do not have, and something she came very close to losing.

The past 9 months have been harder on Salamatu than they have been for many; Ebola has ripped a hole right through her family, and all she has left is EducAid. This is her story:

Salamatu is a student at EducAid Lumley, equivalent of the senior secondary level two, and should be sitting the WASSCE exams in a years time. She has been with EducAid for 5 years, starting at Junior Secondary level and has transformed herself from being a weak to mediocre student to being our strongest female science student.

Earlier on this summer, Salamatu recieved the news that her mother had contracted Ebola. Having already lost her aunt, older brother, and her father, Salamatu was distraught. Only days later, her mother had died from the virus.

Here is Brima’s interview with Salamatu:

What is your name, and where are you from?
I am Salamatu Conteh. I am from Waterloo, Western Rural Area, Sierra Leone, where I lived with my family, but I reside in EducAid Lumley.

How has Ebola affected you?
I lost my aunt on 16th September, my elder brother on 24th October, my father on 4th December, and my mother on 17th December.

Were you allowed to visit their funerals?
No, and I felt so miserable.

Were you scared of catching Ebola off your family?
I was terribly afraid. I was lost in thought. Confused over what might have killed them and what to do next.

How did you avoid catching Ebola?
I used the lessons from school in EducAid Lumley: I avoided visiting, touching and attending their funerals and any other. I was terrified.

How has EducAid helped you to keep safe?
Being at EducAid has restricted my movement and contact with Ebola. They have us all on regular treatment to avoid Malaria, worms and malnutrition.

What would you have done without EducAid, would you have been able to protect yourself from Ebola?
I would have done virtually nothing because after the incidences, I was confused and perplexed. Maybe I would have acted wrongly and eventually contracted the disease.

What do you think about the work that EducAid is doing for Ebola?
They are really helping the young and old from keeping out of Ebola’s way and to be safe. They are great!

What are the biggest challenges that the country faces regarding Ebola?
My country lacks the resources and manpower needed to fight and put the disease under control and out of the country. This has affected many of the functions of society and government. Everyone is almost fear stricken.

How are you helping in the fight against Ebola?
I am helping others with the constant reminder of the routines to keep safe: regular washing of hands with chlorinated water, restricting movement and contact, avoiding touching the sick and dead or visiting funeral homes and burial ceremonies, to name a few.

Salamatu’s story is one that is repeated throughout the country: whole families ripped apart by this merciless virus. At EducAid our main priority throughout the outbreak has been to protect our staff and students on our facilities. Our number one objective is to remain Ebola-free, and to achieve this we have some strict policies set out throughout our network. One of these policies is to restrict all of the movement of staff and students to the absolutely necessary minimum. Anyone who contravenes this rule is not allowed to return to our site.

Salamatu, despite all of her education, Ebola training, and sensitisation, in her grief-stricken state did not adhere to these simple rules. Salamatu walked out of the EducAid Lumley compound without permission to collect money for her on the 16th December. This date coincided with the eve of her mother’s death, and it was presumable that she must have been to see her mother who was clearly very ill at the time. Because of this unauthorised trip off of school property, Salamatu was refused re-entry. However, fortunately for her, we had just been granted permits to run our ICCs and she was accepted there. Instead of being in EducAid Lumley, Salamatu is currently in the Maronka Interim Care Centre undergoing an observation period of 21 days. Salamatu is now doing well. She is clearly harrowed by the experience, and feels a deep sense of loss for her parents.

What is inconceivable to anyone who has not been in Salamatu’s position is the feelings of loss and grief that she must have felt when her mother died. Having been stripped of her whole family, Salamatu was left with nobody left to fend for her, and in this daze of fear and grief she made a mistake. Her description of events is telling; she uses phrases such as “terribly afraid”, “terrified”, “I was lost in thought”, “confused and perplexed” to describe her actions. As I have mentioned before, there is no room for mistakes when dealing with Ebola – Ebola mistakes are more often than not deadly. Fortunately for Salamatu it seems as though she will be okay, and will soon be able to rejoin her classmates at Lumley.

Finally, here are a few words from Brima. I asked him to update me on the battle against Ebola:
“Many people are being helped by the EducAid teaching programmes to keep safe. At Maronka, we have helped our entire community keep out of Ebola’s way by not only teaching the instructions but also following up on routines and treatment to make assurance double sure.”