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.