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Ebola: spreading beyond an international health emergency

A boy uses a hand washing station.

Plan is providing sanitation resources like hand washing stations as a preventative measure against Ebola.

The Ebola crisis is no longer just an international health emergency – it has become a humanitarian crisis as well. Though the initial warning from the World Health Organization expressed concern of the highest magnitude, the dangers of this deadly virus have expanded beyond contamination and contraction.

Ebola has claimed close to over 10,000 lives across West Africa since the current outbreak was first detected in Guinea in March 2014. However, it also carries with it other dangers, such as extreme food shortages, which are rippling out across affected regions.

Plan has been working in the affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia since the mid-1970s and 1980s, making us uniquely positioned to reach out to community members to help calm fears, quell rumours, instil hope and empower citizens by providing information, tools and resources. With that said, we now recognize that new demands have emerged, requiring expanded assistance and action. With your help, we must adapt to confront a battle against Ebola on multiple fronts by addressing the following issues:

1. Education, business, and trade are halted

In an effort to contain the virus, families have been separated and regions have been quarantined – a trying experience posing further challenges in accessibility. With mobility restricted, the cost of living continues to rise exponentially, and the norms of everyday life have ceased for many.

“Everything has come to a halt,” said Kamara, a social worker located in Lofa County, Liberia. “There is no education as the schools and colleges are closed. Businesses are not moving, the city is empty and people are now running away. People are even questioning whether they should work.”

Klubo, another social worker in the County, explained that she used to provide counselling to grieving loved ones and those in fear. But, she is now in fear, herself, of coming into contact with others. “People whose hands I used to shake, or people I used to hug – I do this no more. I talk to them from a distance,” she said.

Farmers have reportedly stopped producing their crops due to the outbreak. “How will the poor survive – especially when plenty of them rely on a daily income from the goods they managed to sell every day?” said Bintu, of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Residents of Sierra Leone say food prices are soaring due to the lack of cross-border trade. Kadiatu, a trader in Sierra Leone, who used to purchase supplies from Guinea at a cheaper cost, confided she will soon run out of food to sell.

2. Food, water, and other provisions are scarce

“There is food shortage in the market and the demand is high, and this has urged traders to increase their prices,” said Alpha, one Freetown resident. According to Kamara, a simple bag of rice now costs $35USD, the result of food shortages and panicked purchasing.

Prior to the Ebola crisis, many individuals in the affected communities already struggled with poverty, finding it difficult to afford the basics to sustain daily life. Now, with supplies running low and being sold at such a high cost, their precarious circumstance is getting worse. “Things are getting really difficult now in the country,” said Mariatu, a citizen of Sierra Leone. “Presently, we are living on stored food items bought months before the outbreak.”

This has led citizens like Alpha to fear the worst. “The situation in the country is getting more difficult every day. If this virus is not tackled as quickly as possible, many are going to die of hunger,” he said.

Health workers in uniform.

Response workers prepare to sterilize a contaminated site.

3. Healthcare is limited

A town chief within Liberia expressed concern about the poor healthcare in the area – a resource that was strained even prior to the crisis. Currently, care for Ebola patients is limited, making primary healthcare exceedingly scarce.

Plan Liberia Country Director, Koala Oumarou explained that with weak health systems and a fast-spreading virus, it is difficult to stay one step ahead of the disease. “To combat the outbreak, actions are needed at different levels. Preventative work through public health promotion, care and treatment units, psychological care, information dissemination and rebuilding public health systems should be top of the list,” he urged.

Taking action, together

Plan is helping prevent the spread of the disease, and its impact, through ongoing efforts, including:

  • Equipping children and communities with life-saving prevention information so they can protect themselves from Ebola and help control its spread. Plan is using radio broadcasts, posters, information leaflets, public theatre, and TV spots to reach out to schools and communities.
  • Setting up hand washing stations at schools, health posts and other public facilities to help families protect themselves from the spread of Ebola.
  • Training health workers and volunteers in effective infection control procedures, including the proper use of protective equipment and the isolation of those exposed.
  • Providing emotional first aid and care to children affected by Ebola and protecting them from exploitation and abuse.

As these programs are established, we will continue to monitor progress and tailor actions to address emerging needs and priorities. “With each passing day, the true impact of the Ebola outbreak is becoming clear,” stated Dr. Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response at Plan International. “We fear that the food crisis escalation will have a detrimental effect on children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. The situation calls for multi-dimensional response covering health, food and humanitarian aspects.”

Collaboration is key for an immediate and effective response to the quickly escalating Ebola crisis. Plan has taken a pivotal step in teaming up with the HUMANITARIAN COALITION, combining our individual strengths and resources to further related aid initiatives.

Now, we need your help. We can stop Ebola, but we can’t do it without you. Join our efforts to combat the deadly spread of this disease, and its impact. You have the power to help contain the Ebola virus and save lives.