19.05.2015 Finally we are looking beyond Ebola in Sierra Leone

CBM has been working with partners throughout the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has seen over 10,000 people lose their lives, communities decimated, and the economies collapse. In Sierra Leone, where I have just finished a week-long visit, the schools have just re-opened and the numbers of new cases are now very few. The Ebola Treatment Centres are mostly on stand-by, and life is slowly returning to normal. It felt strange not shaking hands or touching people, and having to wash hands and have your temperature taken every time you enter a building.

I was here to facilitate a national consultation on rebuilding mental health services organised by the WHO, as we emerge from emergency response to recovery and rebuilding. I also used to opportunity to visit our well established mental health programme, Enabling Access to mental Health in Sierra Leone, and the two Ebola response projects that our partners have been running over the last year.

I was extremely proud to hear the essential role that the psychiatric nurses trained by our programme placed in all districts in the country played in supporting the people affected by Ebola, including survivors, orphans, health workers, and other members of communities who experienced loss of loved ones and fear of this terrible disease. Because the Enabling Access programme had been in place for 4 years, they were able to provide this essential service when the disease arrived, and our partner staff showed remarkable dedication in the face of great personal risk to themselves. Sadly one of our dedicated nurses died from Ebola, and one survived the infection.

As the epidemic took hold, CBM decided to start two new programmes focused on the Ebola response. Our partner West Africa Medical Missions worked to ensure that the key messages about safety and protection from infection were made available to community of persons with disabilities. They worked with national groups of persons with visual and hearing impairments, and physical and mental disabilities, to create relevant and accessible messages through posters, music and video, as well as visiting special schools and disabled persons’ organisations with people who could communicate through sign language. The Mental Health Coalition, a new and strong voice for mental health that emerge from the Enabling Access programme, led an initiative to ensure that emotional needs were addressed for those affected by Ebola. Without these CBM partners, these vulnerable groups would have been neglected.

During my visit there, many people thanked CBM for the support provided during the outbreak. I left immensely proud of our partners’ work, and it is exciting now to be embarking on establishing stronger services for the long term.