Celebrating a Milestone in Liberia: Closing an Ebola Treatment Unit

On October 31, PCI Liberia celebrated an incredible milestone: the closing of our Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Ganta, Nimba County. PCI Liberia’s Country Director, Jolene Mullins, Dr. Teweldebrhan Abrha, Chief of Party and the team have spent the last year in this area mobilizing a team of health professionals to stop the threat of Ebola.

“It’s a bittersweet celebration as we say goodbye to many members of our medical team who have fought Ebola since the early days and have become an important part of the PCI family,” said Jolene.

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As the ETU shuts down, each of the members will be returning to their home health facilities, leaving Liberia with a well-trained and prepared cadre of medical staff that can be called on in the case of an outbreak of Ebola or infectious disease.

With support from the US Agency for International Development Office of Foreign Disaster (USAID/OFDA), PCI Liberia was selected to implement Support to Ebola Treatment Unit Project (STEP) to manage the Ganta ETU in close partnership with the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW). The goal was to slow the spread of the Ebola virus through Nimba County, isolate existing cases, provide high-quality medical care, and support ongoing outreach programs in the community.

Jolene shared, “As I think back, I am reminded that so many partners including PCI had never run a health facility like this, and the concerns on both sides of the world on how to fight this horrible scourge while keeping PCI staff safe.”

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Ebola is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. The virus is spread through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people. The risk is considerably high for those living with and caring for a person infected with Ebola.

“It was a frightening time but after meeting the Ganta team fielded by Dr. Collins Bowah, County Health Officer, Dr. Paye Gbanmie, Medical Director and the Nimba County Health Team, I knew that this was a group of the most committed and compassionate health professional and auxiliary staff I had ever met,” said Jolene.

PCI Liberia’s commitment to support the Nimba County health team never wavered. Over 2,300 people were screened for Ebola and the ETU directly and indirectly benefited over 200,000 people in the region. The team’s compassion and hope lifted the spirits of the survivors and the community, while also working hard to dispel myths about Ebola, an issue that affected the welcoming of survivors back into their homes.

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Dr. Collins Saa Bowah, a County Health Officer for the Nimba County Health Team, described the Liberia team as warriors: “Imagine a soldier that starts attacking his enemies before his assignment letter and machinery arrives. Don’t think I am being too military, but this was what actually happened when PCI stepped in. They took our war to be theirs and fought to the very last end successfully.”

Dr. Abrha and the team are leaving Nimba County a stronger place. They are saying goodbye to a community that better understands the transmission and treatment of Ebola. They are leaving a County Health Team that has Ebola care and treatment referral sites prepared to respond rapidly to an outbreak.

The epidemic would not have been stopped without the courage and selflessness of every person on the STEP project and the healthcare workers across Liberia. As the PCI team closed down the facility and left behind an incredible milestone, they also welcomed a future for Liberia filled with resiliency, strength and hope.