As hopes of containing the Ebola Virus are fading, OneVillage Partners (OVP) is responding to the emerging crisis with the intent to keep staff safe, and to do whatever we can to support the villages by offering preventative measures to maintain their health and safety.
In the last month there have been over 100 cases documented in the remote eastern villages of Sierra Leone and nearly 759 documented cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone with over 467 fatalities. The first recorded Ebola Virus cases have now migrated to the region containing the villages where we work. OneVillage Partners has made some tough decisions as we follow the news closely concerning the world’s largest outbreak of the Ebola Virus since it was first discovered in 1976.
Many more cases are suspected. Also concerning are reports of distrust and panic by the general populace. We have confirmed reports of rocks being thrown at public health workers conducting Ebola sensitization and rioting in front of the main hospital in Kenema (where our bank is located). In the last week in Bunumbu, the location of our head office, angry community members attacked an ambulance, removing three potentially infected people from its enclosures. The first cases in the capital of Freetown were also reported last week. Doctors without Borders has called the situation “out of control.” Several organizations have pulled out of Sierra Leone, and nearly all non-health related organizations have pulled all non-essential staff from Kailahun District (where we operate).
Tough Choices for OVP and our response to the Ebola Virus
In late May OneVillage Partners postponed the planned trip for Blake High School students to Sierra Leone. The students had been researching their trip for the past 6 months, and were ready to leave in one week before our unfortunate but wise decision. As the virus spread, we decided to return our summer interns from Amherst College to the states just 9 days after their arrival in Sierra Leone. This decision was made for a few reasons: the risk of having to use public transportation where the virus is known to spread, and the risk in the villages themselves, where residents do not habitually seek medical assistance if they are sick. In fact, one of the reasons the Ebola Virus spreads is that the villagers are distrustful of isolation in medical facilities – it goes against their cultural beliefs of having family members offer primary medical care.
Sadly, we recently made the difficult decision to send our Sierra Leone staff back to their home villages where they wanted to be with family, and pulled the rest of the ex-pat (non-Sierra Leonean) staff to Freetown (west Coast Sierra Leone) due to 4 new cases of the Ebola Virus in Kenema where they lived. Today we heard of the first documented case in Freetown (capital and largest city in Sierra Leone) and made the toughest choice – to send our remaining staff back to their respective home countries. They depart next week. All staff will be on either a small stipend or pay for the next few months, and will hopefully be reinstated once the crisis is over. We realize this could take at the earliest three months and may be up to 6 months or more.
In the meantime, OneVillage Partners is developing Emergency Intervention Plans to prevent the spread of this deadly disease to the villages where we work. OVP has aided in the dissemination of information on Ebola and preventative measures that people in our villages can take. We will stay in close communication through our established reliable networks to monitor the risk(s) of returning staff.
We are in process of raising $25,000 to apply towards the current crisis and toward regrouping once we determine the risks to staff are no longer present.
Because the villagers have a trusting relationship with us they now believe the Ebola Virus is true and are reaching-out to help themselves in establishing routine preventative measures in their respective villages. OVP’s quick response to the crisis and our dissemination of information has been praised by local officials and village chiefs. We have been instrumental in dispelling the myths and rumors around the virus, in addition to the sanitation supplies to prevent the spread of the disease. The distrust of government and health care systems is almost as big of an issue as the virus itself. This is where OVP can make a huge impact.
Ebola Virus Disease – EBV – (Ebola hemorrhagic fever)
History: The Ebola Virus first made its way into our consciousness in 1976 as outbreaks occurred in the Congo Basin. The fatal virus has never spread outside these remote areas until now. Why is this significant? Because Western Africa, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are countries with more mobility across borders, which makes containment much more difficult. Since February when the first Ebola Virus cases were documented in Guinea, many felt that the protocol for isolation and containment would allow for the virus to “burn out” as it always had within a few months. This did not happen. The virus spread out of Guinea and into Sierra Leone and Liberia. Many believe the first entry into Sierra Leone happened when a corpse was transferred back home to a village for burial. Traditional burial customs of washing the body by hand risks the transmission of the disease to family members. In addition, any healthcare workers and traditional healers who do not follow strict procedures or are unfamiliar that they were dealing with the Ebola Virus are often the most at risk.
As people get the virus, which is often undiagnosed initially, they tend to hide it due to the stigma and the fact that those they see who go to medical isolation centers often to not come back. There is great fear and a refusal to admit illness. Ebola strikes fear in people because the virus is so deadly and there is no cure. The case fatality rate is as high as 90%.
The Ebola Virus got its name from one of the first outbreaks of the virus in a small village along the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ebola Transmission: Ebola is a severe acute illness often characterized by a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. The incubation period can be from 2-21 days before vomiting, diarrhea, and even internal and external bleeding occur. Ebola is transmitted in humans through close contact with blood, body secretions, organs, or other body fluids of infected people or animals. The virus is felt to originate in fruit bats as the natural hosts. Before now, it was only seen in remote villages in Central Africa near tropical rainforests.
Ebola Treatment: with no cure, the only treatment is to rehydrate the patient orally and intravenously. These supportive measure if started early can lead to recovery.
Growing Concern: With the mobility and the potential for those to flee their villages to larger population centers, there is a potential that the Ebola Virus may continue to spread outside of the region.
Linkages for more information on Ebola and Sierra Leone: