Read an account from Joe Dempster (below), Plan’s Child and Youth Engagement Officer, about how young people are helping to fight Ebola in their own communities
Young people are taking action across West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak. Saatah, aged 16, from Lofa County, Liberia, is among the young Plan volunteers helping affected communities to control the spread of the disease.
I live in a community in Liberia not too far from the border where Ebola started. People die on a daily basis. We need help to fight Ebola but the young peoplecan help too. I have joined a group and radio station to do awareness raising.
We are given chlorine to use when doing this work. We are also advised to wear long protective clothing and long sleeve jackets. One time when we went to do awareness, there was a little girl who vomited, and before we could tell her elder sister not to touch her, she went ahead. When doing the awareness raising I am scared, but I am happy to be able to fight Ebola in my communities.
Plan Liberia is among other international non-governmental organisations supporting community-based organisations in 3 districts (Voinjama, Quandu Gboni, Kolahun) and 6 community radio stations in Lofa to conduct Ebola awareness. The radio awareness work about Ebola is reaching the length and breadth of the county and is helping to reduce the risk of infection.
To make sure that I and other children in Lofa are safe, we receive regular calls from Plan’s child protection focal person here in Lofa, cautioning us to follow all the preventive measures to remain safe.
While sensitising folks in a village called Worsonga in Foya District, Lofa County, I heard some people crying and when I asked what was wrong, a lady told me her uncle had just died. Upon hearing this, I advised them not to touch or go near the dead body and they listened. I took my phone and called the ambulance.
In a few minutes time, the ambulance came and took the dead man’s body. By evening, the medical team brought the result of the cause of the man’s death, which indicated that he died from chronic malaria and not Ebola.
After 2 weeks, I decided to follow up on the bereaved family. While at their home, I asked the wife of the dead man why she didn’t take her husband to the hospital during his sick period.
The lady said to me: “My husband was showing many signs and symptoms similar to Ebola, although he usually showed these same signs whenever he was sick with malaria. We both were scared that the nurses could just observe the signs and diagnose him as an Ebola patient, so we decided that he stay home and receive the same treatment we usually administer him.” As she was saying this, tears rolled down her cheek.
It was painful to see their 4 children shed tears along with their mother while she spoke. The family cried so bitterly that I had to ask a neighbour why they were crying this way. It was how I got to know that the lady’s late husband was the breadwinner of their family and that his death would mean a great deal of challenges for her in bringing up the children.
This was so pitiful to see I had to turn my face the other way just to release a few tears.
Many people in that village fear that the moment they report their sick relatives to the nurses they will be diagnosed Ebola positive just by observing the symptoms.
This led me to take a different trend in my Ebola sensitisation – encouraging health practitioners to promptly test suspected Ebola patients before diagnosing them Ebola positive; instead of just observing the signs and symptoms, as this could scare more people from reporting their sick relatives.
We are getting support from the communities. They are happy about the awareness raising we are doing and little by little people are accepting the fact that the disease is real. It is working – the death rate is reducing.