During the height of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, there were many people living in remote areas with little access to services, safe water and supplies, or even information. I traveled with a small group from JSI and the PCI React team to visit some of these places to do an assessment of their needs during the outbreak in November. We went to a number of the affected communities in Bong and Nimba counties. The visit was in support of the Liberian Agricultural Upgrading, Nutrition and Child Health (LAUNCH) project, a USAID Food for Peace assistance program that aims to improve food security of vulnerable people living in the rural Bong and Nimba counties. JSI is providing technical support to the project.
There were four general community health volunteers (gCHVs) who accompanied us. These volunteers are doing incredible work helping their communities in important ways, with few resources, and in demanding jobs. In Bong County, I was very impressed by gCHVs Tarnue Briggs and Robert Kunatee. They led us to the remote villages of Sackie Bomota and Golata in Salala District. These men are working very hard for their communities, walking two or three hours or more each way, to collect hygiene supplies to help their communities fight this terrible disease. As they led us through forests and over 10 bamboo bridges, they were patient with our slower speed of walking; my feet were very sore on the return trip. These volunteers are making this journey daily, as NGOs working in the area are not reaching out to affected communities are inaccessible, but rather wait in more accessible areas for the people to come to them.
In these poor, rural communities, we found that people lack access to safe drinking water or important information on basic health, as well as on infection prevention and control. We learned that the trained midwives from Sackie Bomota had died of Ebola, and that the five pregnant women there had been refused antenatal care at health facilities because they are from affected communities.
In the town of Sanoyea, our team visited a quarantined family of three children and their father and mother. The family was living in isolation and in fear, after the death of a relative from Ebola. They were also dealing with stigmatization. I felt afraid too, while I was there, and was careful not to touch anyone. This family was traumatized but our visit encouraged them. We were able to provide hygiene kits and explain proper hand washing practices. I’m pleased to say they are doing fine now. Since our visit, no one has come down with the disease. The hand washing practices as well as food and water protection have improved. However, we uncovered a severe lack of attention to the psycho-social needs of people traumatized by this terrible disease.
During a recent follow up visit to the villages of Sackie Bomota and Golata on February 27, 2015, we learned that there were 10 people who have recovered from the illness. But while conditions have improved there is still a tremendous amount of emotional hardship among survivors from the loss of family members.
Now that the outbreak is subsiding it’s a good time to reassess the response. We are focusing on assessing the nutritional status of six most affected counties, reevaluating protocols around infection prevention and control, in particular as it relates to breast feeding, infant young child feeding, Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM), and distributing information to the health facilities , towns and villages.
Learn more about the Liberian Agricultural Upgrading, Nutrition and Child Health (LAUNCH) Project.