Dr Luanne Freer working with inspirational NGO Partners in Health, reports from West Africa

Ebola emerged in West Africa in late 2013 and has spread across borders, killing thousands and leaving behind survivors and shattered families.

Partners In Health has helped respond to the epidemic, aiming to address not only Ebola but also the “staff, stuff, systems, and space” challenges that hamper containment efforts. PIH has recruited and trained American volunteers, many of whom are now working to curb Ebola alongside West African partners in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Several share their reflections below:

Article (c) Partners in Health
Photo: Rebecca E. Rollins / Partners In Health

Partners In Health and Last Mile Health staff tour the Ebola Treatment Unit in Bong, Liberia, managed by the International Medical Corps.

Ebola emerged in West Africa in late 2013 and has spread across borders, killing thousands and leaving behind survivors and shattered families. Partners In Health has helped respond to the epidemic, aiming to address not only Ebola but also the “staff, stuff, systems, and space” challenges that hamper containment efforts. PIH has recruited and trained American volunteers, many of whom are now working to curb Ebola alongside West African partners in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Several share their reflections below:

Sorrow and Celebration

January 1, 2015–It is crazy busy here [in Port Loko district, Sierra Leone], and I’ve cried every day. Not despondent crying, but trying to be appropriate and grieve when I need to. One of our employees, a 52-year-old sprayer (they spray us down with chlorine as we are taking off the personal protective equipment) died yesterday. He was the sole caregiver for two young boys, who were two of our last admits of 2014 yesterday.

One 28-year-old father who survived Ebola was nursing his last child (his wife and other kids died two weeks ago), and we tried so hard to get his baby through. You know where this is going. His last family member, a 1-year-old tiny little girl, died yesterday. Our staff sobbed at the gate when he wailed and said she was all he had left in the world.

It guts me to see their grief. I can deal with the corpses and the horrible illness, but their grief is overwhelming when I think about what it must feel like. They have nothing, live in dirt-floor shacks with a few goats and have to haul their unclean water from the river, have no available health care, and then they lose their family? I’m crying just writing this. I, we, have so much to be grateful for.

But if I had to choose a way to spend New Year’s Eve (I was on the 4 p.m.-12:30 a.m. shift last night), it would be to be doing what I was doing. Giving sleeping pills and Valium to people who can’t sleep because of their suffering, feeding a starving little baby with no parents, sedating elderly encephalopathic adults. They just look terrified and mumble unintelligibly, but I can understand enough to know they are having awful hallucinations. And you know what? Sometimes they pull through, and I celebrate those victories; they keep me coming back.

We discharged nine survivors one day last week. I treated a case of cerebral malaria this week and transferred the patient to a government hospital that has one nurse on duty for 50 patients. I hope he gets his artesunate [medication for malaria], but we didn’t want him to catch Ebola just because he had the bad luck to catch malaria in the middle of this epidemic.

So that was my New Year’s Eve. Today I have the only day off I will have for an entire month, and I woke up to go on a 10K run on a relatively cool, breezy morning. I ran through several villages where little kids ran to the road yelling “abado!” (white person!), and adults said “Happy New Year and thank you!” (I am crying again—it’s so beautiful to have people from the community say thanks for what you are doing.) A few little kids ran along with me for a while, and we raced from sign to sign. It will be very difficult to leave this place when it is my time to go.

Luanne Freer

Article (c) Partners in Health

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