In Sierra Leone, Humanity & Inclusion is helping survivors of a fuel tank explosion access specialized rehabilitation care.
On Nov. 5, 2021, the explosion of a fuel tanker in Freetown killed more than 100 people and injured another 100. Facing a fuel shortage in the country, people gathered around the wreckage, collecting gasoline that leaked from the truck – then it exploded.
Humanity & Inclusion set up an emergency response to assist people burned in the incident, as well as survivors experiencing psychological trauma. After identifying affected individuals, the organization helped them gain access to mental health and specialized physical therapy. Almost two months after the explosion, survivors share their stories of recovery.
Humanity & Inclusion visited 201 people impacted by the blast: 133 family members of people killed or reported missing, and 68 survivors of the incident.
Among them was Mohamed, who received rehabilitation care for severe burns.
“I got burnt on my left ankle. I didn’t know what to do after being injured and I was afraid that the police would come and take me if I went to the hospital,” he says. “So I went back home and tried to take care of it on my own.”
Mohamed lives 15 miles from the site of the explosion.
“I was home when the Humanity & Inclusion team located me,” he explains. “They advised me to go to the nearest hospital to avoid infection. I received a treatment, including physical therapy, which is helping me. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to the hospital, as I couldn’t walk without a crutch. Now I am getting better day by day.”
To help patients get to their medical appointments, Humanity & Inclusion provides reimbursements for transportation costs.
“I am receiving treatment at Rokupa Government Hospital, about 30 minutes away from where I live in Old Wharf,” explains Mariatu, who was also injured in the incident. “Considering my condition, it’s difficult for me to attend daily care, as I have no income. Humanity & Inclusion supports me with transportation fees. It is so far the best support that I’ve received. I am now getting better every day.”
Humanity & Inclusion also created and distributed 800 leaflets with information about burn care, burn prevention and first aid tips to explain the complications risk and the importance of follow-up care.
Burn care expertise
When caring for burn injuries, physical therapy is essential during acute care in the hospital and long after discharge to avoid secondary complications and long-term functional limitations, which may lead to disabilities. With support from Humanity & Inclusion, 44 survivors received physical therapy.
Humanity & Inclusion deployed a physical therapist specialized in burn care to provide capacity building support for rehabilitation workers at the National Rehabilitation Center. The National Rehabilitation Center also deployed one rehabilitation worker in a community center to ensure continuity of care after the patients are discharged from the hospital. At the emergency hospital, 17 nurses and nine physical therapists were trained in burn care and physical rehabilitation care for patients with burn injuries.
“We are grateful for the burn training we have received,” says Emily, who leads the rehabilitation team. “The training was short but our team acquired vast knowledge, which is going to help us in our practice.”
At least 144 people were killed after a fuel tanker exploded in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, on Nov. 5. After assessing needs in the field, Humanity & Inclusion is moving on to the next stage of its response: assisting victims.
Humanity & Inclusion teams were working in Freetown when the explosion occurred and immediately began evaluating needs in the community. The victims include especially at-risk groups such as children, aging people and people with chronic diseases.
Focusing on rehabilitation and psychosocial support, Humanity & Inclusion will work in partnership with other organizations and the Freetown city authorities over the coming days to provide support to:
- 200 injured survivors of the explosion
- Relatives of the 144 people who have died
- 1,172 indirectly affected members of the community
- 50 health professionals
Rehabilitation and psychosocial support
In addition to emergency medical care, victims of the explosion will need long-term rehabilitation and psychosocial support.
Hundreds of people were injured in the explosion, many with severe burns. Burn victims risk developing joint contractures and difficulties with movement, and require special rehabilitation care. Unfortunately, physical therapists in Sierra Leone do not have expertise in caring for serious burn victims. Humanity & Inclusion plans to develop targeted rehabilitation activities so patients can get the care they need.
When people experience a traumatic event on this scale, victims and their families need help to overcome their pain and the impact of the accident.
“We plan to assist victims affected directly and indirectly by the disaster,” says Pauline Ducos, Humanity & Inclusion’s director in Sierra Leone. “Psychosocial support and rehabilitation care are among our main priorities. Humanity & Inclusion will help victims overcome the disaster and build their resilience. Social workers from our partner organization will reach out to each victim and their family, listen to them and refer them to specialized services, if necessary.”
Humanity & Inclusion’s emergency response includes:
- Rehabilitation care for burn victims: physical therapy sessions; patient follow-up; covering transportation costs
- Psychosocial activities: individual and group support; paying wages of psychosocial staff members
- Training health staff
More than 100 people were killed when a fuel tanker hit a large truck and exploded on Nov. 5 in Freetown’s Wellington district. Humanity & Inclusion staff in Sierra Leone are working to assist the community.
Humanity & Inclusion teams responded to the affected area, checking on people injured in the explosion, and their needs. Many people will require medical and rehabilitation care.
“It’s important to treat the injured, particularly serious burns victims, by providing them with rehabilitation care,” says Pauline Ducos, Humanity & Inclusion’s director in Sierra Leone. “If casualties are not treated after they leave the hospital, they risk losing their functional abilities and may develop a disability.”
Humanity & Inclusion’s teams also plan to help survivors and their relatives with psychosocial support.
“Our current priority is to give casualties psychosocial assistance in order to prevent extensive psychological damage,” explains Mamoud Kargbo, Humanity & Inclusion’s operations manager in Freetown.
A ‘national disaster’
Declared a “national disaster” by the Vice President of Sierra Leone, the explosion occurred when a fuel tanker collided with a large truck carrying granite. Most of the casualties are street vendors and motorcyclists who were attempting to recover fuel from the tanker when it exploded.
A total of 101 people died and 200 more were injured. Half of the people with injuries are unlikely to survive, according to the latest reports.
All casualties are being treated in the city’s hospitals and clinics, which have been overwhelmed by the sudden influx of patients. The facilities do not have staff with expertise on caring for serious burns victims.
Humanity & Inclusion in Sierra Leone
Humanity & Inclusion began working in Sierra Leone in 1996, when it opened a rehabilitation center in Bo, followed by three other centers. Since then, Humanity & Inclusion has worked alongside the medical community to improve the standard of rehabilitation care. Teams also promote inclusive education, protection and mental health.
Humanity & Inclusion has responded to major health emergencies in the country, including the Ebola epidemic from 2013 to 2015, the mudslide in 2017, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Over the last 25 years, Humanity & Inclusion has served tens of thousands of individuals, including people with disabilities, children and women to alleviate poverty and improve access to essential services.
On March 24 a terrible fire burned down the shanty town of Susan's Bay, in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown. Humanity & Inclusion teams took immediate action, offering assistance to families and people with disabilities, many of whom are already participants in Humanity & Inclusion’s projects.
8,000 people were affected by the fire and at least 400 were injured, according to initial reports. More than 250 houses were destroyed, forcing many to seek temporary shelter in schools or tents. Families, who already live in extreme poverty, lost everything in the flames. Humanity & Inclusion is working with the National Disaster Management Agency in assessing humanitarian needs.
So far, 40 people with disabilities have been identified. At least nine people lost equipment that helps in their daily tasks. Teams are meeting with these individuals to collect more information and analyze their specific needs, and Humanity & Inclusion will replace mobility aids lost in the fire. The team will work with other NGOS to ensure inclusive humanitarian assistance is provided.
Humanity & Inclusion is providing psychological support to people affected by the disaster, coordinating efforts with other NGOs. These emergency psychological support sessions give people a chance to speak openly about their experiences, often an important first step to overcome shock and trauma.
Image: Crowds of people stand among ash and rubble after fire in Sierra Leone. Copyright: HI
Amie loves school and seeing her friends in the classroom, but she struggles to hold her pencil. Born with a physical disability that causes weakness of her limbs and coordination issues, Amie has difficulties using her arms, hands and legs. Now, through modifications made to Amie’s school in Sierra Leone and personalized instruction in the classroom, Amie has the support she needs and is learning to read and write.
Through one of its many education projects in Sierra Leone, Humanity & Inclusion teamed Amie with Abdul, an itinerant teacher who is trained to work with students with disabilities. Abdul visits Amie at school twice a month and checks in on her at her rural home each week. Working closely with Amie’s teacher and parents, Abdul developed an individual education plan for the spunky 7-year-old. Every month they meet to go over Amie’s progress and make sure she’s receiving the support she needs.
Amie also happens to attend SLMB Primary School in Mano Junction, Kenema, which is one of the Girls Education Challenge Transition initiative’s model schools that has been outfitted with ramps, accessible toilets, wider doorways, classrooms with larger windows and brighter paint to assist students with low vision to make learning more accessible for students like Amie who are living with disabilities.
Today, Amie is a confident little girl who is feeling more supported in school and destined to succeed.
In a place like Manjamadu, a rural village in eastern Sierra Leone without access to quality healthcare facilities, a small scratch can lead to a life-threatening infection. Several years ago, Daniel, now 13, was playing soccer with friends when he cut his right foot on a tree stump. Untreated, Daniel’s foot and then leg became badly infected, and his leg had to be amputated to prevent the infection from spreading. His father, who had already lost three children to the Ebola epidemic in 2014, kept his son at home from then on.
Last year, Mambu, a community outreach worker representing Humanity & Inclusion’s Educate a Child project, heard about Daniel, and strongly encouraged his family to send him to school. Because children with disabilities are often left out of the education system in Sierra Leone, HI’s community outreach workers seek out children like Daniel and connect them with the support they need.
HI helps children with disabilities to learn by enrolling them in school, providing them with assistive devices and school supplies, and by educating parents, teachers, and other community members about the importance of including all children in school.
Today, Daniel is a fifth grader at the Kono District Education Committee School. With his teachers’ encouragement, he is slowly building up his confidence. He is even planning to participate in the school’s upcoming sports tournament. “In the future, I want to become a teacher,” says Daniel with a big smile.
“Each time I see a child that I identified attending school, I feel proud that I have been given the opportunity to change their life,” says Mambu.
In addition to helping children, Humanity & Inclusion also improves the accessibility of school buildings through the installation of wheelchair ramps and other features, training teachers to work with special needs students, and providing adapted teaching materials to schools.
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