The worst Ebola outbreak in history
The first case of Ebola Virus Disease was identified in Guinea in March 2014 and the disease has since spread rapidly to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal.
This disease has profoundly disrupted lives, communities and economies. Entire villages in Liberia have been isolated following confirmed cases of Ebola. Hospitals are filling up with Ebola patients, leaving no capacity to deal with other health needs. Food shortages are expected due to price hikes, border closures and a shortage of labour to harvest maize and rice crops. Schools have been closed indefinitely and more than 4,000 children have lost their parents to Ebola.
Red Cross Red Crescent response
- 2.8 million people reached through information and community education about Ebola
- 6,985 Red Cross volunteers trained and
- 169 international aid workers supporting local Red Cross societies, including 12 Australians
- 97% of burials of Ebola victims in Guinea done by Red Cross (3,834 bodies so far)
A story of survival
Although there is no cure yet, the chances of surviving Ebola increase with supportive care. Kalie, aged 11, was one of the survivors, because she was taken to the Red Cross treatment centre in Kenema soon after contracting the disease.
As the Ebola virus was slowly driven from the 11-year-old, she began connecting with other patients, forming bonds with the healthier ones, very rarely leaving their side. It didn't matter that
they were separated by two sets of the orange mesh fence that divides the high-risk zone from the low-risk zone.
She gave one last wave to the other patients before walking away from the centre for the final time. In the local Krio language she was asked: "How de body?" "Fine," she replied, and for the first time in weeks, she meant it.
"She was very flat when she first arrived. She was unresponsive and did not have any interest in what was going on around her. It has been a wonderful experience to watch her transform into a healthy young girl."
- Lauralee Morris, Red Cross chief medical officer, Sierra Leone
*Child's name changed to protect identity.
Going door-to-door in a time of crisis
The only way to end the epidemic is to simultaneously educate communities, isolate Ebola patients, trace and monitor anyone who has come into contact with them, and safely bury those killed by the disease.
Australian aid worker Libby Bowell is in Liberia, coordinating a Red Cross team responsible for all these tasks. Her team is going door-to-door to help identify cases, provide information and offer counselling to the bereaved. With the country's health system overwhelmed, they are now giving people advice on how to care for their family members without becoming infected themselves.
The United States and other countries have pledged cash and medical teams to provide relief, which can't come fast enough. Through our appeal, Australian Red Cross continues to help people access medical care and counselling, support safe burial of the dead and prevent further transmission of the virus through community education.
"I don't know how much clearer to say it. We need more people on the ground."
- Libby Bowell, Red Cross community health aid worker, Liberia
Volunteering to bury Ebola's dead
Many people have contracted Ebola while burying their loved ones, as corpses remain highly infectious. Red Cross volunteers have taken on the dangerous but crucial job of burying the dead, a role which often involves digging graves while wearing heavy protective gear, and also burying the dead person's clothing, blankets and other items. In Guinea, Red Cross handles 97% of all burials of Ebola victims.
Many volunteers are students who have put their education on hold. They are getting a daily per diem to help make ends meet while they serve their community.
"We are helping our communities to kick Ebola out, and that is the most important thing."
- Brima Swarray, Red Cross volunteer in Sierra Leone.
A new field hospital
When Ebola reached the town of Kenema in Sierra Leone, the local health staff were among the first affected, with doctors and nurses contracting the disease.
Red Cross has opened a new 60-bed Ebola treatment facility in Kenema. The centre will be staffed around the clock by 80 local health workers and 19 international aid workers. While the facility was under construction, Red Cross aid workers supported the government hospital to care for 1,300 patients. Three Australian aid workers were involved: two ward nurses and an anaesthetist.
It's no easy task to care for patients with Ebola. Health workers must wear protective equipment - a combination of coveralls, heavy-duty gloves and boots, goggles and aprons. They must dress and undress in a well-defined sequence, starting and ending with a pair of surgical gloves.
"Imagine trying a few days in Australia without shaking hands, touching someone, sharing a cup with your husband avoiding any contact with skin and washing your hands in chlorine 40 times a day and you would get the smallest essence of being here in the middle of this crisis."
- Dr Jenny Stedmon, Red Cross anaesthetist, Sierra Leone