While OVP villages have shown remarkable resiliency in the face of an unseen killer, the Ebola outbreak has spiraled out of control, killing more than 3,500 people in West Africa, sickening many more, and the disease has now reached the US and Spain. Worst case scenario estimates quote astronomical numbers of people that could affected before the outbreak is stopped. Still, we at OVP are hopeful based on the aggressive assistance pledged by the US, the UK, and France, as well as the money (over 100 billion dollars) pledged by various international organizations. Let’s hope the international community can contain this quickly.
Of equal concern is the devastating long-term economic impact that the outbreak has had and will continue to have. (For more information on those effects, please see this several-weeks-old Al Jazeera article that gives a good summary.) This crisis will set Sierra Leoneans back at least several years in terms of their development, and OVP is committed to being a part of that recovery.
At this time, OneVillage Partners is relying heavily on a handful of in-country Sierra Leonean staff members who live in and around the villages. Expatriate staff members coordinate our efforts remotely. All of our current work is focused around Ebola prevention, reducing risk, and addressing the economic impacts of whole-vilage quarantines. Of the approximately 7,000 people we serve, 24 have died of Ebola. Three people have fallen ill with Ebola but recovered due to early detection and treatment. While these deaths are tragic, we are so proud of the quick response of our villages. We hear stories about other villages in Sierra Leone that have literally been consumed by the disease. Ours are fighting and proactive.
- The village of Pujehun, the smallest of our villages, has been hardest hit. A community member harbored a sick family member from another village, and subsequently exposed numerous family members across several houses to the disease. There have been 22 deaths there. The entire village was placed under quarantine, and as new family members fell ill, the 21-day (length of the incubation period) quarantine would start anew; this happened several times, keeping the village quarantined for about two months. With the entire village quarantined, people were unable to get food, so early in the quarantine, OVP provided food aid to the entire village. A month after our delivery, the World Food Programme (WFP) changed their policy to start providing food aid to quarantined villages. Given the long duration of Pujehun’s quarantine, WFP made a second food delivery to Pujehun. The quarantine for the whole village is now over, but one house is still under observation.
- Jokibu had one case of Ebola from a 22-year-old resident who traveled to the Liberian border. The village responded quickly and has been widely regarded as a model on how to manage an Ebola outbreak at the community level. This is very much due to the work of our local staff members and former staff members; they were monitoring the situation from the beginning and approaching it thoughtfully. Even the Ebola victim’s mother – his caretaker when he was sick – did not catch the virus, which is remarkable. The village is now out of its 21-day quarantine. Jokibu is the positive deviation, and all the surrounding villages are trying to follow along. Jokibu also received food aid from WFP during its quarantine.
- In the village of Grima, there was one death, and the village is now under quarantine. The main exposed were a family of five, but several households are under close observation. We are coordinating to see what assistance, if any, may be needed.
Nearby towns, such as Bunumbu (where our office is located), have introduced curfews, and they’ve also made bylaws forbidding strangers and those who haven’t been vetted from entering the village/town. Our staff say that everyone is “really aware” of Ebola, much more so than they were before.
OVP is currently networking with other community-based organizations in our district to better understand other possible community-based approaches, to be ready to respond to the situation as it evolves. OVP’s current response is three-pronged.
- Utilizing Jokibu as a model and Jokibu’s leaders as a convening hub and force for wider community mobilization, OVP is working to connect and build core teams across our six villages of community health workers (who were trained by the government around Ebolaprevention in anticipation of last month’s three-day mandatory country-wide lockdown). This network will monitor the villages, work towards quick identification of possible cases, conduct ongoing education, and support those in quarantine, including providing food to individual families or individuals who have been exposed and are quarantined in their homes.
- This group of community mobilizers will also help us avoid another situation like Pujehun. In Sierra Leone, when someone contracts Ebola, the standard practice is to take the infected and the exposed to the hospital for testing. If an exposed person tests negative, the person is sent back to their village and asked to stay in their house, along with other family members who may or may not have been exposed. They are all quarantined within their house. This means that if one of the exposed becomes ill, the others in the home are much more likely to contract the disease, even if they wouldn’t have gotten the disease otherwise. OVP staff have come up with a plan to separate exposed individuals from the village and from each other by utilizing school classrooms (currently not in use, as school isn’t meeting). We’ve talked about this with the District Medical Officer of our district, who finds the idea very promising, and we’ll utilize the network of mobilizers to implement this plan if any new cases appear. This approach may serve as a model for other villages in the district to minimize the spread of the disease.
- We are staying in touch with the villages and WFP to be ready to coordinate food aid for quarantined villages that need it. Harvest season is now beginning, which should reduce this immediate need, but it is unclear how much farming activities and crop yields have been affected by recent goings-on.
We appreciate you keeping the villages in your thoughts and prayers, as well as all of your efforts to continue to support the villages and OVP at this time. OVP staff members may not be medical professionals, but they are on the front lines, fighting for their communities and their loved ones. They are true heroes who, though they (and we!) are taking every precaution, are putting themselves on the line to help their neighbors and save their villages.
We’re so proud to stand behind them.