Ebola Update Liberia
L- R Sr. Mary Ann Williamson, fmm, Dr. Tim Flanagan, Bishop, Fr. Charles Boyce ,
Jim with CRS, and Sr. Barbara Brillant, fmm
Dr. Flanagan : “Today I will be working with a wonderful new nun, Sr. Mary Ann Williamson from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. She went to medical school at the University St. Louis and then did a residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She’s been working in Kenya and Sudan for the last 30 years so knows Africa well. She also spent about 10 years in Ghana and so she is familiar with West Africa. This is one of the extraordinary things about the church and how it works. Most NGOs come in for six weeks or three months or six months. For example, I think it’s pretty great that Luba and my colleagues at work could give me two months to come. Sr. MaryAnn is here for six months. Sr. Barbara has been here for 30 years, including being here during 13 years of civil wars. Brother Justino was the director of Catholic Hospital for more than 20 years. This really defines long-term commitment, and so many consider Africa their home.”
Star of the Sea Health Center
We will be going to a clinic that has been closed to give advice on triage and an isolation unit. Then we’ll meet with the training faculty at the Mother Patern College of Health Sciences. They continue to do trainings in clinics. We are setting up repeat visits with ongoing evaluation.( Please see Dr. Timothy Flanagan’s Blog)
Then it’s time for lunch. Afterward, I would like it if Sr. MaryAnn and I have the time to go to Star of the Sea, to see how that clinic works in the middle of the congested, poor neighborhood of West Point. Dr. Dore Is a wonderful and committed physician, and I am hoping the three of us can chat about how to design and implement ongoing evaluations. By that time, it will be the end of the day. This evening we’ll think through our training tomorrow at Catholic Hospital.
In Africa, “orphan” is an uncommon concept, according to Sister Barbara Brillant. If a child’s parents die, the child’s aunt or uncle will automatically take the child. And if they die, the tribe or clan will assume responsibility.
But things have changed in Liberia. Not only have many children lost their parents to Ebola, but they too have lost their community support system to the fear that Ebola has engendered.
“You have some children with absolutely no place to go,” said Sister Barbara, who became national Catholic health coordinator two years ago in Liberia and has had a baptism by fire with the worst outbreak of Ebola in Africa in decades.
Sister Barbara, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary who went to Liberia in 1989 from her native Maine and has been there ever since, predicts that the fear will persist until a vaccine become widely available.
As national coordinator of the Church’s medical response to the crisis, one of Sister Barbara’s goals is to educate people not only on how to protect themselves from the deadly virus but also to get beyond superstitions that bring stigma to those close to victims and even to those who have overcome the infection.
“Even some of the recovered children are being rejected by their families,” she said. “It’s because of fear. We haven’t gotten across to everyone ‘What is Ebola? How do you get it and how do you not get it?” They fear this disease so much because they see people just die. Whole families of 12, 13, 18 have died.
Another possibility is to have adults and even children who have recovered from Ebola—and are therefore now immune—take care of orphans. But that carries its own risks.
“A recovered person is immune and can comfort orphans, for example, but the trouble is, you say to people, ‘Do not touch,’ and when you see people touching then people start breaking the protocol again. We have three doctors from Catholic hospitals who have recovered, but they still will suit up and wear all the protective gear because you need to show people: We must all do this.”
Meanwhile, what began small in Liberia in March and April and reached epic proportions in August and September, has begun to slow somewhat.
“We are doing better at protecting, contacting, tracing,” Sister Barbara said. “The cases are coming in early. We are not overpopulating the units when it’s not Ebola. We are able to diagnose and separate those who are Ebola from those who are not. We have a better knowledge and understanding and handle on what we’re doing, but to say that it’s finished, absolutely not, to say that we’re out of the woods, absolutely not, but we are improving.”