A spike in Ebola cases in Kono district, Sierra Leone, has served as a warning that the outbreak is far from under control. Nearly 90 bodies have been found in the district in recent weeks.
The Red Cross had already begun building an Ebola treatment centre in Kono. It will become the Red Cross’ second treatment centre in Sierra Leone, alongside the 60-bed centre in Kenema.
Norwegian Erik Lundblad, deputy team leader at the new Ebola treatment centre in Kono, explains how the Red Cross is responding to the spike in cases.
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What is the situation in Kono?
The situation in Kono is very worrying. We’ve received an increasing number of patients from Kono in the Kenema Ebola treatment centre over the past few weeks, now numbering more than 60.
We’re receiving alerts of suspected patients from all 14 chiefdoms in the district.
What is the Red Cross doing in Kono and why?
We arrived in Kono just a couple of weeks ago and found a hospital in great need of help. Staff were facing a growing number of patients.
There is a severe lack of staff as some had fled. Others had been in quarantine, or were themselves confirmed Ebola patients. Some, unfortunately, had died from the disease.
Red Cross teams have cleaned out the hospital to avoid any risk of contamination and to improve the general hygiene of the hospital. We have also started to train staff in infection prevention and control.
We have constructed a triage and holding centre inside the hospital premises to separate suspected Ebola patients from non-Ebola patients, which allows the hospital to run as normal.
Suspected Ebola patients are isolated at the hospital before being taken to the Red Cross Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, some two hours away.
We have already started the construction of a treatment centre in Kono, which will have 20 beds and will be opening in the next couple of weeks.
There are also two Red Cross safe and dignified burial teams based in Kono, which are responding to cases in the most remote locations.
The rough terrain is a big challenge. It can take the teams up to three hours to reach their destination.
The Sierra Leone Red Cross Society will soon begin implementing the remaining three ‘pillars’ of the Ebola response.
Have you spoken to local communities about the new treatment centre?
We’re making sure we’re involving both the traditional leaders and the local government in Kono.
We invited the chief of Douma chiefdom, where the treatment centre is being built, together with other community representatives, to a meeting.
At the meeting we explained what an Ebola treatment centre is, why we are here, and gave them an opportunity to raise any concerns or fears they may have.
The chief had previously been ignored in other projects and felt very frustrated. By inviting the community along, we demonstrated that they are very much part of the treatment centre. Because of that meeting, they are supporting us.
What is needed in Kono to bring down the number of Ebola cases?
One thing is getting the treatment centre up and running, but for the time being we can do triage and send patients to Kenema.
What is urgently needed is the means to reach out to patients in the most rural areas. There are not yet enough people on the ground to do swabbing, contact tracing and community outreach.
The entire system needs to be strengthened.
How does the reality on the ground compare to messages being shared through international media?
News in Norway or Europe indicates that Ebola has recently experienced a steep down-curve and is no longer the problem it was. That’s not the reality in Kono.
It’s very much a serious situation and people are scared and worried. We have seen a steep increase in patient numbers.
Is there one moment that stands out for you during your time in Sierra Leone?
There are many extremely strong stories. One that really made an impact was a nine-year-old boy who was discharged from the Red Cross treatment centre in Kenema.
He lost his mother, two sisters and brothers. He was very traumatized. He has one older sister who is still living, but she couldn’t afford to take him in. He was discharged, but without any sign of happiness.
He was placed in interim care until a solution could be found.
It was really striking to see both the joy and happiness of the Red Cross staff cheering when he came out of the high-risk zone, discharged and Ebola free, but without anyone to take care of him.
How would you evaluate the Red Cross response to the Ebola situation in Sierra Leone?
I am very happy the Red Cross is able to show it can respond quickly, that we are not just sitting around discussing how and when and if we’re going to take action.
When we see a need, as you can see in Kono now, we get together a team and we go to assess the situation and we move.
The first cargo plane with equipment is arriving now. I’ve never experienced this ability to respond so quickly, so I’m extremely happy and proud.
- Please donate to our Ebola Outbreak Appeal
- The surreal journey home – read more from a Red Cross Ebola nurse
- Ebola virus disease explained – questions and answers
- Read the Guardian’s recent story from Kono
This is an edited version of an article that appeared on the website of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.