By Corinne Ambler, IFRC
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is moving quickly to put aspects of its Ebola recovery programme in place before the rainy season hits the three worst affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Recovery plans for each country are now complete and attention is turning to pre-positioning stocks and strengthening cross-border collaboration in the Mano River basin before the expected rains arrives. The rainy season this year is predicted to be both earlier and heavier than in recent years, prompting urgent planning at the IFRC regional level.
“With the arrival of the rainy season, roads become impassable and isolated communities will be difficult to access,” says Youcef Ait Chellouche, IFRC deputy head of regional Ebola operations. “This could be disastrous for any community that has an outbreak of Ebola, because help will take some time to arrive. There could also be outbreaks of other diseases such as measles which could compound the situation.”
While Liberia was declared Ebola-free on Saturday 9 May, it is still at risk as long as neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone have cases. The outbreak is currently concentrated in a small coastal strip near the border of Forecariah in Guinea and adjoining Kambia in Sierra Leone. Ait Chellouche says the Red Cross is dedicating many of its resources to this small area in an effort to get to zero Ebola cases.
“We are focusing our response on Guinea and Sierra Leone, using the opportunity of smaller geographical areas of transmission to more effectively contain the outbreak. Simultaneous active case finding is also being prioritized in Ebola-free districts and prefectures.”
The Red Cross recovery plan will continue until at least the end of 2016, and will center around food security and livelihoods, disaster risk management, and health. Community-based health care and prevention will be strengthened, and improving the psychosocial health of volunteers and communities will be a priority. IFRC is also planning to immunize frontline volunteers against common diseases.
“Our recovery programming will have the overall aim of strengthening community resilience. We can use the knowledge and skills gained by our Red Cross volunteers to prepare for, and respond to, future epidemics. We want to support communities and the National Red Cross Societies in those countries to build back better,” says Ait Chellouche.
It is a view echoed by Abbas Gullet, IFRC’s vice president for Africa.
“Our role is to leave a National Society in a better position than when we found it. In all three countries we must leave a stronger National Society, more accountable and more resilient. We must invest in human resources, as the biggest asset any institution has is its people.”
Mr Gullet says a priority for him is making sure IFRC gives ongoing support to the families of those Red Cross staff and volunteers who have died while fighting the Ebola outbreak.
Youcef Ait Chellouche says planning for recovery while keeping in mind that the response phase is not yet over, means some surge capacity needs to be maintained.
“We need to progress with a flexible and responsive approach that enables a continued focus on getting to zero cases, while also integrating recovery and resilience programming to manage ongoing risk.”
Despite the challenges linked to the Ebola outbreak, Red Cross volunteers and staff have played a pivotal role in reducing the number of overall cases. Through a multi-faceted approach, teams have buried more than 20,000 people in a safe and dignified manner, reached 5.6 million people with Ebola messaging, and provided psychosocial support to more than 240,000. More than 1,000 Ebola sufferers have also received treatment at the Red Cross’ three Ebola treatment centres.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched 16 Ebola-related operations totaling more than 126 million Swiss francs, aimed at reaching 39 million people. For more information on Red Cross Ebola operations, visit http://www.ifrcmedia.org/ebola/.