Liberia was declared free of Ebola transmission on 14 January. To mark this event, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is republishing some of the remarkable stories from our Ebola response operations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to reiterate the importance of community-based volunteer action in helping communities cope with a crisis, recover quickly, and become more resilient.
The National Red Cross Societies of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were among the first to respond to the outbreak when it was announced in early 2014. More than 10,000 Red Cross volunteers helped to treat, contain and prevent Ebola as part of an IFRC emergency response operation that reached more than 23 million people in the three countries.
Throughout the Ebola crisis, the Red Cross response was organized across five pillars of support: community engagement, case management and treatment; safe and dignified burials and disinfection; surveillance and contact tracing, and psychosocial support. In this way, volunteers were able to simultaneously educate communities; isolate Ebola patients; trace and monitor anyone who had come into contact with an infected person, and provide safe and dignified care to those killed by the disease. Many volunteers risked their lives in the frontline response and faced violence and discrimination within their communities.
IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy described the bravery and dedication of Red Cross volunteers and staff as making “the difference between life and death” and noted that they will continue to play a critical role in strengthening individual and community resilience in the wake of the crisis.
The first signs of the West Africa Ebola outbreak came from the south-east of Guinea in December 2013, when a two-year-old boy died after suffering from fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. Within weeks, his mother, sister and grandmother had also died. Mourners who attended the funerals became ill, and passed the infection to others in their communities. A health worker and doctor became ill and died, as did some of their patients. The sickness continued to spread in Guinea and suspected cases were soon reported in neighbouring countries. Liberia formally declared an Ebola outbreak at the end of March, Sierra Leone in May, Nigeria and Senegal in August, and Mali in October. Swift and robust crisis management contained the disease in Nigeria and Senegal and they were declared Ebola free in October, followed by Mali two months later.
The Ebola outbreak officially ended in Sierra Leone in November; Guinea in December, and Liberia was declared free of the disease by the World Health Organization on 14 January.
However, as part of the IFRC’s long-term recovery and resilience work in the Ebola-affected countries, a community event-based surveillance programme will continue to train volunteer community health monitors to detect and isolate cases of Ebola before new outbreaks occur.
The news of a suspected Ebola fatality in Sierra Leone, and the subsequent quarantining of family members and other people who came into contact with the deceased, is a stark reminder that we cannot become complacent. Much more work will be needed to ensure that a fresh outbreak of the disease does not occur.