Despite the hopes raised by a sharp drop in the number of contaminations in January, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is not over yet. In Sierra Leone, where Handicap International manages the only fleet of ambulances used exclusively to transport people suspected of having Ebola, the number of new cases remained steady in February and March.
“Following a drop in the number of contaminations, some organizations have started scaling-down their activities, but Handicap International is not one of them,” says Bruno Leclercq, Handicap International’s Field Program Director for Sierra Leone and Liberia. “To eradicate the virus, we plan to operate our fleet of ambulances for weeks after the last case is detected. Transporting patients is a vital part of the response to the virus and we need to keep up the pressure until we win the battle against the virus.”
Although the people of Sierra Leone are growing weary of the current restrictions—meetings are still mostly banned, and places of entertainment have to close at a particular time—they are also incredibly committed to overcoming this crisis. “Thousands of local people are helping out,” says Leclercq. “It’s important to remember that they represent the vast majority of those involved in the fight against the virus today.”
Despite the risk to their own lives and possible rejection by their own communities, local people have volunteered in large numbers to work as ambulance drivers, nurses, and decontaminators. “I was personally very moved when I met a midwife who delivers babies in a health center, despite the risks,” says Leclercq. “She works in stifling temperatures, covered head to toes in a safety suit, without any direct contact with the mother or child.
“Because the virus has not been beaten yet, we need to keep talking about it, carry on with our efforts, and bear in mind the exceptional dedication of the thousands of workers who continue to fight this epidemic.”