Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an international health emergency as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed nearly 1,000 lives since it was first detected in Guinea in February 2014. Ebola is a severe viral illness, transmitted by bodily fluids, with mortality rates of between 60 and 90 percent. The WHO said the outbreak is an “extraordinary event”.
Discussing how the outbreak has affected our research in Sierra Leone, ICMHSR researcher Meredith Newlin was interviewed by BBC York reporter Elly Fiorentini on Friday (listen here - start at 1.04.30). During the interview, Meredith explained how our research plans have changed in recent weeks as the country responds to the outbreak. We had planned to visit Sierra Leone in September to deliver the co-produced training we developed with stakeholders during our last visit. However, when the Ministry of Health and Sanitation issued a state of emergency and began restricting travel, it became clear that it would not be possible to bring the nurses together from their posts in district hospitals across the country and we decided to postpone the training.
During the interview, Meredith discussed the importance of addressing psychosocial issues around the outbreak. As we saw during our visit in May, Sierra Leone’s health facilities have a shortage of doctors, nurses and infrastructure, and were struggling to cope even before this outbreak. Whilst public health information has been consistent, an “epidemic of fear” in Sierra Leone has led to suspicion and fear surrounding the disease and contributed to its spread.
Our partners in Sierra Leone, Enabling Access to Mental Health Sierra Leone (EAMH) and King’s Sierra Leone Partnership (KSLP) have held emergency response training for the 21 psychiatric nurses. The nurses are now focussed on providing mental health support to families and communities in some of the worst affected areas, an essential component of the country’s response to the outbreak.
Keeping in mind the safety of our research team and the nurses we will resume plans to deliver the training at a later date and in the meantime look for ways that we can support the mental health response.