31 December 2014 - The plight of thousands of people affected by the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone must not be forgotten says Christian Aid, as the first case of the deadly virus is diagnosed on British soil.
In recent weeks Christian Aid has intensified its emergency response to the crisis in Sierra Leone, where nearly 2,500 people have died and over 9,000 have been infected by the disease. The country represents nearly half of all reported cases in the current outbreak.
Christian Aid is addressing pressing needs in seven of Sierra Leone’s worst-affected districts using funds donated by the British public through its own appeal and the Disasters and Emergency Committee (DEC). Its partners have scaled up distributions of food, household materials and hygiene items to 420 Ebola survivor households and 150 quarantined homes.
This week Christian Aid became the first organisation to provide such kits to survivors in the Western Area, working alongside Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs. The distributions were organised by Christian Aid partner NETHIPS, which supports people living with HIV.
Jeanne Kamara, Christian Aid Country Manager in Sierra Leone, who took part in the distributions, described it as “truly humbling”. “Survivors need food and other support, such as the provision of basic household items, since those who are infected have all their belongings burnt leaving people in a desperate situation,” she says.
In eight districts up to 500 religious leaders will be trained in psycho-social counselling and stigma reduction, to prevent Ebola survivors and their families from being ostracised by their communities.
The growing number of orphans will become a legacy of this deadly disease and in the coming months Christian Aid partners will also be providing food, water, medical assistance and trauma counselling for approximately 100 orphans, and will aim to reintegrate as many children as possible with extended family members.
Partners will also carry out further public education initiatives, predominantly through radio broadcasts and community visits, aiming to reach at least 1.5 million people with vital information on prevention and treatment.
As a new year looms and the outbreak enters its 10th month, Christian Aid hopes the crisis will not be forgotten by the international community. “We are very sorry to hear of the British nurse who has fallen victim to this indiscriminate virus,” says Jeanne Kamara. “At a time when the Ebola crisis appears to have fallen from the international news agenda, this sad incident reminds us that this disease does not recognise country boundaries and is continuing to infect more people every day.”
She continued: “This was a very unusual Christmas period in Sierra Leone. At a time of year when people are used to being with their families the mood was sombre and celebrations were curtailed in a bid to halt the increase in the chain of transmissions. However, the numbers of infected persons remains worryingly high.
“Cases continue to fluctuate amid the drive to identify Ebola sufferers, who are still not presenting themselves for early treatment and/or isolation. People are still caring for the sick and dying themselves, as well as carrying out unsafe burial practices, resulting in many deaths that could have been avoided. The issue of cultural practices continues to pose a big challenge.
“Christian Aid partners are working flat out in various districts, including ‘hot zones’, to trace those who have been in contact with Ebola sufferers, carry out patient referrals and train psycho-social counsellors. In addition they are providing urgently needed food and non-food items to an ever-increasing number of quarantined people in poor communities, in order to prevent starvation.
“The long-term impact of the Ebola outbreak on Christian Aid’s programmes mean that we have to sharpen our work on livelihoods for Ebola survivors, particularly focusing on women and young people. Also, resources meant for alleviating the suffering of people living with HIV have been greatly reduced, since much of the focus has been on our national Ebola response. In 2015 we will need to accelerate our HIV work to ensure that our gains are not lost and are, at best, stabilised.
“My sincere hope is that Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea will see the back of this deadly and uncompromising virus within the first half of 2015. Sierra Leoneans are a resilient and sturdy people and I hope the country will begin to pick up the pieces and start to rebuild the gains that it has so woefully lost.
“I hope this outbreak will encourage the Government of Sierra Leone and its partners to build a resilient health service for all, so that if, or when, another infectious disease rears its head again the country and its people are prepared.
“Finally, I hope next year we can begin to address the critical issues of maternal and child health, ensure that children and young people can get back into full-time education, and start to deal with the enormous socio-economic issues emanating from this dreadful disease.”
To donate to Christian Aid’s Ebola response visit www.christianaid.org.uk/ebolacrisis
Download available images:
Community members collect Christian Aid food aid in Freetown. Credit: A. D'Unienville/Christian Aid
Christian Aid food parcels are delivered to a community in Freetown's Cline Town neighbourhood. Credit: A. D'Unienville/Christian Aid
Christian Aid team members in Freetown prepare emergency food distribution parcels. Credit: Christian Aid
Freetown's Cline Town community, where Christian Aid partners have delivered food aid. Credit A. D'Unienville/Christian Aid
If you would like further information please contact Tomi Ajayi on 020 7523 2427, or call the 24-hour press duty phone – 07850 242950
Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid has been working in Sierra Leone for over 25 years, delivering development programmes through local partners on issues such as gender-based violence, governance, sustainable livelihoods and HIV. For more information about our work in Sierra Leone, visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk/whatwedo/africa/sierra_leone.aspx
2. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
3. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.
4. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org
5. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire
6. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk