In January 2014, the Government of Guinea in West Africa declared an outbreak of the Ebola virus. Since then, Ebola spread to the neighbouring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, causing an epidemic that at the end of 2014 had caused 24,754 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
There had been 11,794 deaths in Sierra Leone, 9,555 in Liberia and 3,404 in Guinea. Because of a lack of knowledge about the disease, Ebola quickly became a source of stigma and terror.
ACT members responding to the epidemic identified two key issues:
- the need for more healthcare locations and resources, and
- a need to raise preventative awareness to stop the disease spreading.
As a first step, ACT members constructed an isolation segment in the compound of Liberia’s Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing, and made provisional plans to procure medical supplies.
In both Liberia and Sierra Leone, besides the high mortality rate, Ebola patients were often abandoned or rejected not only by healthcare workers fearing infection but by their families and friends due to fear and shame. Added to this, survivors had to deal with deaths of their colleagues, friends and family also in isolation.
Working on the premise that the best way to protect people was to prevent the spread of the disease and remove the social stigma attached to it, ACT members initiated educational projects with 5,830 people in Liberia to increase understanding of measures that can be taken to prevent contamination and spread of the disease. These projects were set up in the Bong and Lofa counties, and the subsequent decline in the number of new cases there was thought to be partly due to these interventions.
In addition, multiple meetings and workshops were set up to raise awareness and sensitisation among a further 14,270 people.
In Sierra Leone, sensitisation work was undertaken directly with 9,000 people, and food and non-food assistance was given to 100 families who had suffered deaths or survived infection. More than 400 families were given psychosocial support and 40 orphans given nutrition and health support.
When the Ebola epidemic was at its peak, fear meant that people refrained from leaving their homes to work, resulting in reduced food production and a consequent rise in malnutrition.
ACT members helped vulnerable families by providing them with rice and soup, and extended this service to specific hospitals to help reduce the risk of malnutrition among Ebola patients.