Working together with communities to halt the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone

Publicado: 10 julio 2014 15:22 CET

By Michael Kuehnel-Rouchouze, IFRC Emergency Response Unit health delegate (Austrian Red Cross Society)


Michael Kuehnel-Rouchouze is an Austrian doctor, deployed with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies emergency response unit to support the response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. This is his fourth mission and, he admits, his most challenging.

It is quiet in the centre while Titus the Coach, a volunteer with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, is relating everything he knows about the Ebola virus disease. More than 50 religious leaders from the Inter-religious Council are busy writing down everything he says. There are some questions such as “who should we call if we suspect a case?” An imam sitting next to a priest decide to pray together on the radio, to share the news on air.

“The Red Cross was the first who invited us, telling us everything about this disease and for this we are very thankful,” says Mr. Tannel, the vice chairman of the Inter-religious Council of Kailahun district.

Kailahun city, in eastern Sierra Leone, is a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere, next to the borders of Liberia and Guinea. This is where the emergency response unit health team of the IFRC moved after the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

A silent killer

Many people have seen the film Outbreak. Yes, there are some bleedings, but no I have not seen a body or a patient exploding, losing 20 litres of blood. This is one of the urban legends – one of many you can find here to explain why Sierra Leone was infected by Ebola: witchcraft, people who just give you injections, God-given, etc.

Ebola is a virus which can be caught by eating so called bush meat (fruit bats, monkeys) and, this makes it worse, it can be transmitted directly via body fluids.

Imagine. Your parents are getting sick, they are vomiting, there is diarrhoea as well, and suddenly while you take care of them, cleaning everything, you get ill. In the end, they die and so do you and those who treated you. This is what is happening now in this area.

There is a lack of knowledge associated with the disease; how you can get Ebola, what to do and how to be treated.

This is why we are here. We being a multicultural international team under the flag of the IFRC. As an Austrian doctor, it has been an honour being asked if I would join. It is my fourth mission and one of the most challenging. People are afraid. Being afraid causes mistrust, and this what we have to face.

Travelling with Mr Hope

Our assistance starts with the volunteers. If they do not know how to face this illness how can they help other people? So, we start to train and work together with Sierra Leone Red Cross Society volunteers like Titus the Coach. He speaks to the people in Creole, something we couldn’t do. People trust him, they know him already.

Ferdinand takes up the last part of this training. He is our Finnish specialist in psychosocial support. Standing in front of the Council he doesn’t speak of how deadly the illness is. He doesn’t mention the almost 100 people who have died. This is what they have heard already several times. Instead, he speaks about the 15 people who have survived Ebola and who give us hope that others can too.

They now call Ferdinand, Mr Hope. This is our Red Cross mission: giving people information on how to prevent Ebola, giving information on what to do if they get ill, and giving them hope that having Ebola doesn’t mean you are going to die.

All together, and with prayers of inshallah coming from the room, we hope to prevent people from getting ill. Helping the poorest under the sign of the Red Cross.

At the same time, we will not forget that somewhere in Kailahun, a little town in the middle of nowhere in western Africa, people are still dying.

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La Federación Internacional de Sociedades de la Cruz Roja y de la Media Luna Roja es la mayor organización humanitaria del mundo, con 190 sociedades miembros. Siendo uno de los componentes del Movimiento Internacional de la Cruz Roja y de la Media Luna Roja, nuestra labor se rige por los siete principios fundamentales: humanidad, imparcialidad, neutralidad, independencia, voluntariado, unidad y universalidad.