My four year old niece frowns, trying to digest the information that her auntie is going to a place called Sierra Leone, where there are some people who are very sick.
It’s not just a small child who has difficulty comprehending what my role is in the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. I’m not a doctor or a nurse, and I won’t be working in an Ebola treatment centre.
I’m very proud that GOAL is opening a treatment centre, but I’m equally proud of the programmes which we continue to run in Sierra Leone. We have been working in Sierra Leone since long before the Ebola virus was here, and we will still be here for long after. We work in many places in the country, on programmes for protecting children from abuse, on providing clean water and sanitation, on training and livelihoods opportunities to help people to earn enough money to feed their families.
"This horrible disease can and will be contained; but that won’t be the end of the crisis for the people of Sierra Leone."
The outbreak happened during planting season, so many people will not have a harvest this year, and will not have enough to eat. Many families have lost members to the virus, who would have helped to provide for them.
Schools did not reopen in September this year, leaving children at risk of exploitative child labour, early and forced marriage, and recruitment to armed gangs. When resources are very scarce, children often become involved in working to contribute to family income, and may not continue their education when schools reopen.
All other illnesses besides Ebola are going largely untreated, because of fears of the virus in health centres, women are giving birth without doctors or midwives, and it is predicted that 1 in 7 women will die in childbirth in the next year in Sierra Leone, with the collapse of the health system.
This emergency in this country will not be over when the disease ends; the impact of the Ebola virus will continue to be felt long after the virus has been defeated. Our programming will be more important than ever, and it is not only medical staff who are needed for that.
- Jessica Grene, GOAL Sierra Leone Desk Officer