The latest WHO reports indicate that over 1,350 people in Western Africa have succumbed to the deadly Ebola virus, with more than 1,800 cases reported in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and now Nigeria. Though the outbreak is slowing in Guinea, 13 cases including two deaths in the Nigerian capital Lagos are causing concern as Ebola enters Africa's most populous city. The epidemic is still raging in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Today, the WHO announced that Kenya was at high-risk of transmission because it is a key transport hub which receives many flights from Western Africa.
How are we responding?
Overall mortality has been lower in Sierra Leone than in Guinea and Liberia. However, a far higher number of cases have occurred and President Bai-Koroma has declared a national state of emergency, encouraging all non-essential government staff to remain at home to help contain the virus.
SOS national director Emmanuel Olatungie says that the SOS team plans to follow similar precautions as the threat grows: “All our SOS Children's Villages – in Freetown, Makeni and Bo – are now on very high alert, with very serious measures put in place. All our Children's Villages are now constantly using chlorine, gloves and hand sanitisers. The movements of all children and young people within our Villages have been restricted. We have restricted visits from outside our Villages.”
The increased safety measures make our Villages very safe places. Children with extended family outside their Village often journey to stay with them during the summer holidays, but with the Ebola threat looming, we have asked them to remain at their Children's Village this year.
SOS mothers give up holiday to care for children
Emmanuel explains that the kindness of SOS mothers in giving up their holiday has enabled his team to provide this extra care: “This has been possible thanks to our SOS mothers, who have all sacrified their annual vacation and stayed within the Village in order to support the children and young people during this period of crisis.”
We are also doing all we can to support SOS young people who have left their VIllage to live in the community. “This remains a serious concerns as we do not have control over their movements,” says Emmanuel. “All have been advised about how Ebola spreads, how to avoid contagion, and how to recognise early symptoms.” We have also supplied them with chlorine, hand sanitisers and gloves to minimise their risk of infection.
The Ebola crisis is especially grave in Liberia, where healthcare is poor. The authorities are struggling to cope with the disease, which is causing widespread fear and panic. There are reports of bodies being left uncollected in Ebola-affected households, not only causing great trauma to family members, but heightening the risk of contagion, since the virus can be contracted from deceased.
The government has erected barracades to restrict the flow of people into the capital Monrovia, and is using the military to hold affected populations in quarantine. Today, reports emerged that Liberian president has succeeded in acquiring an experimental treatment called ZMapp for Ebola patients in Liberia, which may have contributed to the recovery of two American missionaries who are currently receiving care in the United States. The Liberian information minister said that although using experimental therapy was risky, the alternative was far worse.
“We are trying to avoid unnecessary panic”
George Kordahi, SOS national director in Liberia, says that the SOS Clinic, which is available for use by the surrounding community, had reopened on Monday after four days of closure for decontamination: “We are the only major health facility in Monrovia that is still working 24 hours a day. This is creating a serious workload for staff. However, we are refusing critical cases; we refer them to designated Ebola control centres.”
All community work has been postponed to help manage the Ebola threat, and the SOS nursery and schools remain closed in accordance with official containment requirements. Our national team in the capital Monrovia remains in daily contact with our colleagues in the more remote Juah Town. “In the event that we suspect any cases related to the disease, we will evacuate the children and staff to Monrovia without hesistation,” says George.
No SOS families or SOS-supported community families have been directly affected by Ebola. The atmosphere is tense but under control: “The situation is alarming, but we are trying to avoid unnecessary panic and maintain our function as required.”
Nigeria is the most recent country to succumb to the Ebola crisis. In late July, American-Liberian air passenger Patrick Sawyer collapsed in Lagos airport after flying from Liberia. Since then, nine healthcare workers who came into contact with Mr Sawyer have fallen ill, one of whom has died. All have been placed in quarantine. With the help of other organisations, the Nigerian authorities have launched awareness-raising campaigns and preventative measures, but no cases have so far been reported among the general public.
No SOS cases but “the truth is that everybody is affected”
At this time, Ebola does not pose an immediate risk to our children in Nigeria, including that in Isolo, Lagos, near to the affected region. However, the whole country is now on alert and Eghosa Erhumwunse, our Nigerian national director, explains that complacency is not an option: “We do not have any established cases of Ebola in any of our immediate locations. But the truth is that everybody is affected.”
Eghosa explains that a concerted effort is need to ensure Nigeria does not become another casualty of the outbreak: “We all need to build strong synergy to be able to confront this outbreak which is a global issue, and the people, governments, inter-governmental agencies, communities, organisations and other stakeholders must calm the situation and correct the myths associated with this outbreak.”
What preventative measures are our Nigerian teams taking?
To ensure Ebola does not affect children or staff at any of our Children's Villages in Nigeria, we are introducing stringent preventative measures early on. All SOS clinics are being equipped with protective clothing and equipment to help prevent spread in the event of a case entering any facility. Additional hand-washing facilities have been placed at key locations in Villages, schools and all other SOS facilities. Handwash and sanitiser has been placed at the entrances to our Villages and everyone is required to wash their hands as they enter and leave any SOS premises.
Information is being displayed around the Villages to help staff and childen take every possible step to protect themselves from infection, and staff are receiving special training to reinforce their understanding of the disease. This way, they are best placed to help the children avoid contracting Ebola.
Containment vital as Ebola reaches Africa's most populous city
Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and Lagos the continent's largest city, with a population of over 20 million. Lagos is an international transport hub, with air connections to the US and Europe, including Heathrow, so it is vital that Ebola is contained to prevent further spread. In recent years, the nation's healthcare system has seen massive importements, with an increasing focus on community-based initiatives for sourcing medication and delivering services.
With the largest-ever Ebola outbreak sweeping Western Africa, our thoughts today are with the children, families and staff at our SOS Children's Villages throughout the region.
Along with the SOS clinic in Monrovia, which is at the forefront of managing the Ebola threat in Liberia, our supporters provide more than 794,000 vital healthcare services to vulnerable communities around the world. Find out more about our healthcare work.