WHO has published Challenges and rewards of working on Ebola outbreak. Excerpt:
“It was great that Mauricio and I arrived the same day; we were able to share first, very shocking, impressions and to go through the process of adapting to difficult working conditions together,” says Dr Catherine Houlihan, an infectious disease doctor from the United Kingdom deployed through WHO to help respond to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.
For Catherine this is her first deployment in an outbreak setting; “On my first day, I felt shocked by the enormity of the challenges. The day after, I started to adapt.”
Dr Mauricio Ferri, a Brazilian intensive care specialist who has worked for 7 years in various hospitals in Canada, laughs: “Before coming, I had to convince my wife to let me go”.
Both Catherine and Mauricio are mid-way through their three-week deployment to Kenema, one of the most affected areas of Sierra Leone since the outbreak was declared in late May.
They are part of a team of four internationally-deployed doctors providing clinical care inside a newly established Ebola treatment centre located in the city hospital and managed by the Ministry of Health.
They were deployed through the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), a WHO-based network of experts and institutions that can assist with the international response to disease outbreaks.
In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, WHO has currently 126 experts on deployment, sourced from staff, external recruitments and partners through the GOARN.
Personal safety and patient care
“I knew it was going to be hard but I did not expect this extent of challenges, in terms of lack of equipment and gaps in infection prevention and control measures,” says Mauricio. “However, after the initial shock, I started to see those difficulties as opportunities for improvement.”
Mauricio and Catherine spend 7 hours per day inside the treatment centre, fully dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE), caring for between 40 and 50 patients a day. WHO has supplied PPE to health workers responding to this Ebola outbreak. Everybody – from security guards, ambulance drivers, cleaners and professional health workers – should be trained to properly use the PPE so that they can keep doing their job safely.
Some patients leave their mark. “On the first days I was seeing bodies being taken away; on my fourth day I saw the first patient discharged. It was my greatest moment so far,” recalls Catherine. For Mauricio, it is a story of a 4-year old boy who survived Ebola, the only one in his family that was decimated by the disease.