It’s hard to believe one year has passed since the first cases of Ebola in Liberia. Now, as the world races to get to zero cases, it’s time to focus on what’s worked and what we need to do going forward.
PCI was fortunate to have a team in place on the ground in Liberia working in over 700 communities to promote better health and nutrition—and that trust with the communities proved to be invaluable in protecting and saving lives over the past year.
Jolene Mullins is PCI’s Country Director in Liberia. She began her work in Liberia 35 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer and returned with PCI just over two years ago. This past week was the first time in those two years she has returned to the U.S., only for a week, and only to speak at congressional briefing hosted by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry on PCI’s Ebola response at the community level. In her own words:
In a country that is blessed with 11 years of peace following 20+ years of civil war, consistent rains and almost no natural disasters, the resilience of its people has been put to the test over the past 12 months.
Our project area, which borders the Republic of Guinea, began seeing cases of Ebola during the initial outbreak in March of 2014. My experience with two Ebola outbreaks in Uganda gave me the basis for how to handle the early stages of the crisis, and we began utilizing our already established community groups to disseminate key messages on how to control the spread of Ebola. Interestingly, messages surrounding honoring the dead, which are steeped in very strong cultural and religious customs, have proven to be both the most difficult to convey, but the most successful in the fight against Ebola.
A lull in the cases in late April/early May left all of us breathing a sigh of relief. But that respite was short-lived and by late summer we were in the midst of a global health emergency.
Because we were there, trusted, and able to respond immediately to this flare up, our communities were extraordinarily receptive to early training in infection prevention and control, and we were able to deliver the supplies necessary to protect themselves and their families. Further, when a possible case is identified in a community, volunteer community health workers provide active monitoring, health services, and control measures.
To date, over 90% of the 700 communities we work in have remained Ebola-free from day one.
Late last year, we expanded our work to ensure that cross border monitoring is heightened at both the county and international level, and that border staff have the supplies needed to handle possible cases appropriately. Ultimately, we’re not out of the woods yet, and we have the sense that Ebola will be a problem for years to come. To deal with this, we must strengthen health systems and build resilience so governments and communities are equipped to respond to the small shocks that impact on their everyday life and those larger shocks that have global repercussions.
We are humbled and proud to have such a dedicated, experienced country director and team on the ground. As she heads back to Liberia this week, we will continue to do all we can to support her, and the people of Liberia, in rebuilding and strengthening health systems for a prosperous, resilient future.