Thursday, August 21, 2014

New Intern in London Office

We are very pleased to welcome Gloria to the team in London - if you want to get involved please send us an email. Without volunteers and interns like Gloria we could not do the work that we do, thank you! - The Welbodi Team

Hello all, my name is Gloria and I started my voluntary placement on Monday 11/8. I’m particularly excited about this placement because I will gain insight into the various operational facets and functionality of an international development organisation. International development is my new career! Although I haven’t decided on the thematic area that I want to focus on, I’m happy to be working within an organisation that focuses its efforts and resources into child health.

Monday, August 18, 2014

An update on Ebola, our team, and our work

Dear friends and supporters,

We want to update you about the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone and how it is affecting our work.

As you have likely seen on the news, the virus continues to spread in Sierra Leone and in neighboring Guinea and Liberia. As of August 17, the government had confirmed 775 cases in Sierra Leone, including 297 deaths and 215 patients who survived and were discharged. One of the confirmed cases was a child who was initially placed in isolation at ODCH.

Tragically, health workers continue to be hard hit by the epidemic, with many nurses and doctors succumbing to the disease, most recently Dr. Modupeh Cole from Freetown’s Connaught Hospital. Several airlines have cancelled flights to Freetown, the CDC has advised Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the region, and many international organizations have decided to suspend operations and send international staff back to their home countries. Most organizations staying in Freetown are refocusing their work around the Ebola response.

In this challenging and rapidly-changing situation, we took the very difficult decision to ask all the Welbodi staff to work remotely for the time being, away from ODCH. Our international staff and volunteers have travelled to their home countries, some cutting short their planned time in Sierra Leone while others intend to return once the situation in Freetown has stabilized and we are able to identify the right way for Welbodi to support the health system during this time. Unfortunately, as a small organization, we were not equipped to ensure the safety of staff in Freetown if the situation were to deteriorate further, and given all the current uncertainties, we could not rule out this possibility.

We will continue to closely monitor the situation in Freetown, and we plan to return to the hospital as soon as our staff can do so safely. We are heartened by the fact that the government has declared a state of emergency and is taking important steps to stem the spread of the virus.

In the meantime, we will do everything we can to support our partners remotely during this difficult time. We also know that the epidemic will have a lasting effect on the health system and on affected communities, and there will be an urgent need for support once the immediate crisis has abated. Our long-term commitment to Sierra Leone has not diminished, and we will be there to help the government and the people of Sierra Leone rebuild and recover from these tragic events. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Ebola: A double tragedy

To all our supporters,

We are sure you have seen media reports about the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia and we want to update you on how the outbreak is affecting our work and how we are responding as an organization.  The outbreak of Ebola is, in many ways, a double tragedy for a country besieged by unmet needs for healthcare.  Firstly, Ebola is a direct tragedy for the people who have died and their families.  We were all devastated by the news that Dr Sheik Umar Khan, who was at the forefront of tackling the Ebola outbreak, had contracted the disease and died last week.    Secondly, the outbreak will put further strain on Sierra Leone’s fragile healthcare system, resulting in excessive deaths from causes much easier to treat than Ebola, such as malaria and pneumonia. 

Ebola is a rare viral disease, first described in 1976 following an outbreak near the Ebola River in Zaire (now part of the Democratic Republic of Congo).  Initial insidious symptoms of fever, malaise and diarrhea are superseded by an inability of blood to clot and internal bleeding.  In that initial outbreak, 90% of people infected died.  Thankfully, subsequent outbreaks of Ebola have been rare events and the mortality rate varied between 60 and 90%.   There is no vaccine for Ebola and few effective treatments.  The current outbreak in West Africa is the largest ever recorded.  Since the first cases were identified in the end of May, there have been 533 cases confirmed and 233 deaths in Sierra Leone.[1] 

Meanwhile, Sierra Leone remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for an expectant mother or child to live. The Lancet estimates that 28,000 children under the age of five and 1399 pregnant women died in 2013 in Sierra Leone, largely from preventable or easily treatable conditions.[2] [3]   Assuming that the mortality rates have not dramatically changed this year, almost 5000   women and children will have died from conditions other than Ebola, during the outbreak.   The Welbodi Partnership's purpose is to help reduce the number of women and children who die by improving the healthcare system. 

Why does the relatively small number of people dying of Ebola occupy the world’s media while the thousands of faceless women and children barely get mentioned?  Some might say it is empathy fatigue, that children dying in Africa is old news and an Ebola outbreak sounds like the setting for a Hollywood action film. An alternative explanation is the nature of epidemics, in which the number of people infected increases exponentially.  Therefore, if the Ebola epidemic is not tackled quickly and effectively, we may soon see more people dying of Ebola than of more common diseases.  The true explanation for the media attention is probably a combination of these factors.

How are we responding to the Ebola outbreak?   Thankfully, there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola at the two hospitals we work at, Ola During Children’s Hospital and Princess Christian Maternity Hospital.  We are certainly not complacent and we are actively engaged in supporting the government of Sierra Leone in tackling the crisis.  Our country director, Sandra Lako, is a member of both the national Ebola Task Force and the District Health Management Team, providing support to healthcare facilities in the Western Area District (Freetown) of Sierra Leone.  Sandra also works closely with the hospitals’ medical superintendents and Ebola coordinators to support the set up and running of the isolation unit and ensure that the hospitals are up to date with the latest information from the Ministry. You can read more about Sandra's work on her blog 
ODCH hospital is much better prepared to respond to an Ebola outbreak than it would have been six years ago.  As an example, in 2009 we developed a triage system to help doctors and nurses recognize the sickest children as they arrived at ODCH.   Our nurse educator, Dickya Labicane has been providing additional training to the nurses working in triage to help them recognise suspected cases of Ebola.  With subtle modification, the triage system designed to save the lives of children with malaria and pneumonia is now at the forefront of the fight against Ebola. 

Meanwhile, we are trying to ensure our long-term commitment to the women and children of Sierra Leone is not derailed by the Ebola outbreak.   We continue to believe that training of healthcare workers holds the greatest promise for the wellbeing of women and children in the future.  Specifically, we are focused on training Sierra Leone’s first paediatricians. We are also about to start a new maternal and neonatal health project based at PCMH but also focused on  working with community-based women’s groups.

Finally, to our team working in Freetown.  As an organisation we take the safety of our staff and volunteers extremely seriously.  Several organisations have already evacuated their teams, an option we have considered. The Welbodi board continue to monitor the situation closely.  We have offered our team the option of leaving, an option that remains open to them at any time, and we will support them completely if and when they decide to take that step. We are also actively supporting those Welbodi staff members who choose to remain at work.  These staff  are incredibly valuable in supporting the response to Ebola, as well as enabling the hospitals to continue to provide life-saving care during this emergency. The dedication of all of our team members is inspirational, and we are sure you would like to join us in thanking them.