By Dr. Blanca Lomeli – PCI Senior Technical Advisor for Local Capacity Strengthening
I recently came back from my first trip to Liberia.
I started planning a trip to join and support PCI’s efforts in the response to the Ebola epidemic back in October. I wanted to have something concrete to offer so we first decided that I would participate in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention training for emergency responders deploying to West Africa.
My trip took place from January 8th to the 27th. I was there to work with our local staff and provide technical assistance as needed, in clinical aspects of Infection Prevention and Control and on planning and designing of community mobilization efforts.
I wrote a brief report a couple of nights before coming back. I didn’t know what else to put in the subject line, so I called it ‘love letter to Liberia’.
This is what it said:
First, I wanted to say how thankful I was (am) for having had this opportunity. This was my first time in Liberia, and while I knew the circumstances were not the same as they were back in July-September, I could tell that many of the issues Liberia faces are from before the emergency.
I could see from my field visits, that we have great Ebola response projects in Nimba and Ganta counties (bordering Guinea); great because they work directly with communities, they build local capacities, provide much needed information, awareness, supplies, technical assistance and resources and put them in the hands of those who need them the most.
Because of the work we have been doing in Liberia over the previous four years, we were very well positioned to respond from the start. We had the trust of the communities already, and as such, we were able to deliver messages and recommendations as to what was needed to prevent the transmission of Ebola in the communities. And people listened. Among other things, we provided materials needed for hand-washing along with the necessary education and awareness.
Everywhere I went, I was able to see hand washing stations (using chlorine water) outside offices, agencies and private homes; temperatures being checked before entering buildings, hotels, stores, etc. the ‘no touch’ norm was very much in place and no hand-shaking or hugging took place that I could see. People did the ‘elbowla’ greeting (touching each other’s elbows) sometimes. Signs were posted all over the country with written and very graphic messages describing symptoms and what to do if any of those were identified.
The time of my visit in January was a good opportunity to see the results of all the hard work and investments from PCI and other INGOs and government agencies over the last few months. The number of cases has decreased dramatically, so much so that the focus is now on ‘getting to zero’. Zero cases of Ebola is very much a possibility. We are not talking about eradication, but about stopping this epidemic. It hasn’t been easy. The achievements of today are a reality because of the commitment and hard work of many.
Because of the LCS focus of my work lately, I’ve been spending most of my time in capital cities when I travel, in modest hotels or training rooms that have minimal luxuries such as A.C. coffee breaks, clean toilets, and stuff like that. Being back in the field was good for my soul. Where not only is there no A.C. at times, but the humidity, heat, dust, mice, lack of toilets, etc. etc. were a good reminder of everyday life for people here.
I loved Liberia –I loved its people. I loved our PCI staff in Liberia (local and expats). Our country director and consultants are doing a tremendous job. And our local staff (technical, administrative, drivers, volunteers, coordinators) are very committed to our work here. Things are getting better because of what they are doing. I feel great about being part of the team supporting them.
Read more about Dr. Lomeli’s work in Liberia here:
“It’s been nearly a year since the deadly Ebola crisis hit West Africa and sent a ripple of fear across the world. From the beginning, a San Diego-based humanitarian group, Project Concern International, has been on the front lines of the outbreak.
‘The situation is much better,’ said Dr. Blanca Lomeli, a PCI official who spent much of January in Liberia. She said Ebola cases in Liberia have gone from an average of 100 new patients per week to five. Lomeli, who specializes in infectious diseases, said the region is ‘not out of the woods.’
‘We certainly have not strengthened the health systems in a way that they can sustain the next epidemic by themselves,’ she said…”