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Responding to the Ebola outbreak

24 February 2015

In August 2014 the President of Sierra Leone declared a state of national emergency as a result of the Ebola outbreak which had also spread to Guinea and Liberia.

Projects awarded funds under the International Communities programme were being severely disrupted and it was clear the outbreak was impacting on their delivery and finances.

Prince Tommy talks with a quarantined woman.

Prince Tommy talks with a quarantined woman.

In October the Big Lottery Fund decided to support these projects giving those affected the option of applying for up to 10% of their original grant. So far seven projects have received this top-up funding amounting to £276,000 in total.

Lifeline Network International used its top-up grant to carry out Ebola awareness-raising, education and prevention work in Wellington and East Freetown, Sierra Leone. They received £407,988 from the Big Lottery Fund in 2012 for a five year project to support young jobless adults.

When civil war in Sierra Leone ended in 2001, much attention was given to restoring education and training the 10,000 child soldiers. However there was a hidden group of children, who didn’t fight but whose lives and education have been drastically disrupted. The project has been helping support these young adults to find employment, or set up small businesses and cooperatives, but the Ebola outbreak put this work in jeopardy.

Jamie Singleton, Development Director at Lifeline Network International said: “In our first interaction with beneficiaries we were shocked that even educated people questioned whether Ebola was real.

“In early July, Prince Tommy, the Deputy Director of our local partner Lifeline Nehemiah Projects (LNP), was in hospital for malaria treatment when another patient on the ward fell from their bed and started to bleed out. The medical staff wouldn’t treat him, suspecting Ebola, and other patients fled the ward. A few hours later the hospital was in chaos with family members coming to collect their relatives. This fear was heightened by inaccurate information as to how the disease could be transmitted and significant gaps in people’s knowledge which allowed it to spread.”

“As Ebola spread through Freetown, it became particularly prevalent where LNP is based. On a daily basis people were dying within a stone’s throw from the LNP.”

Phillip Cole

Phillip Cole

Philip Cole, LNP Executive Director, spent months on the ground in Freetown battling against the virus.

He said: “People were dying left right and centre. They were hiding dead bodies in their houses – but that’s exactly when the virus is most contagious. We toured communities educating the public about the dangers of the virus. We run a home for boys, set up by my father as a shelter for child soldiers. As the virus spread it reached about five minutes away from where the home is – suddenly people all around were dying. We started taking in Ebola orphans too.”

Jamie Singleton continued: “Instead of pulling up the drawbridge, LNP reacted by interacting with the community.

“LNP designed their own complementary Ebola awareness-raising programme and started presenting in communities, responding to unanswered questions and busting some myths.

“By using videos about Ebola, stories of survivors and performing dramas, we have tried to empower people to identify symptoms and know how to keep safe and hopeful. One young man admitted that before the presentation he didn’t believe Ebola was real. Since January the team have been going door to door, which helped them get a clear idea of the community’s understanding of the disease.

“After our initial Ebola education work, the Big Lottery Fund awarded £41,000 to expand the awareness-raising programme. Before the funding we had reached 3,000 people over three months. After the award, 18,000 were reached in one month alone. The figure currently stands at more than 36,700.

“Without the grant we wouldn’t have a team who we could respond to Ebola or the level of profile and trust with the community through our vocational training project.

“LNI and LNP have looked to respond to this current crisis but have never taken their eyes off the future because there is life post-Ebola which will be filled with other opportunities and challenges. We are committed to rebuilding Sierra Leone for the long term.”

Cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone are now falling and the government is planning this month to reopen schools which have been closed for eight months.

Ebola outbreak top-up grants to date

Action on Poverty – Sierra Leone – £49,937
Act On It – Sierra Leone – £10,134
Concern Universal – Guinea – £50,000
Health Limited – Sierra Leone – £48,583
Lifeline Network – Sierra Leone – £40,786
Plan International – Sierra Leone – £49,923
Ycare – Liberia – £26,595

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