First Person

“Ebola is with us, here and now”

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Abdul Razak Baimba Abdul Razak Baimba, a community health worker, talks with residents of Congo Town in Freetown, Sierra Leone, about Ebola. Oxfam is helping to educate people in affected countries on how to protect themselves. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

An Oxfam aid worker in Liberia talks risks, fears, and a few signs of hope.

David Watako is a water and sanitation engineer, originally from Kenya, who has been working for Oxfam in Liberia since June 2013.

Ebola is with us – here and now. It is an invisible foe. It is transmitted through bodily fluids, like sweat, saliva, blood and urine.

Living in Liberia right now is living with a constant anxiety, especially at this time. We are living in a situation where people are suspicious of any fluid, of any handshake, of any human or surface contact.

We see the front line daily. Health workers, doctors, the men carrying a dead body from the house or the Ebola treatment unit to the crematorium, the driver who is transporting the sick from their homes to the Ebola treatment unit – they have taken the heaviest toll.

They are putting their lives and their families on the line. They often face stigmatization. Some health workers are no longer welcome in the communities where they live because people fear that they may infect them because of the work that they are doing. But somebody has to do the work.

Below: Hear David Watako talk about the situation in Liberia.

The health and sanitation program of Oxfam in Liberia is part of wider measures that could curb the spread of the Ebola virus. We need all measures to combat the disease now, more than ever – because the stakes are too high.

As a water and sanitation engineer I feel that we are providing part of a solution to the crisis. Lives need to be saved by getting clean water to Ebola treatment centres and community centres, and real information needs to get out there. As Oxfam in Liberia that is exactly what we have done.

We have tripled our efforts. Water and sanitation supply to Ebola treatment centres and community care centres has grown, and we are supplying more hygiene materials, like soap and bleach. Oxfam is also raising awareness, through radio, billboards, and text messages, about how people can best protect themselves from catching the disease.

But we must remember that in the situation that we find ourselves in, the medical systems have broken down. Any kind of ailment presents itself as one of the symptoms of Ebola. Quickly the neighbors or the family are calling any ambulance number they can, to get someone to pick up the person affected.

Being able to cope has been hard. Everywhere you turn there is the sound of the siren from the ambulance. There are faces of desperation. The only encouragement you have is that you can call for help – from Oxfam, from your colleagues. You are encouraged that the work that you are doing will somehow, though not completely, work towards bringing Ebola to an end.

Liberians are a resilient people. This is an invisible foe. Yet their lives have to continue.

We hope that international governments do more to help us – there needs to be more money and there needs to be more doctors and nurses. This is a disease that does not stop at borders. The world needs to act now.

You can help.

Take action to #EndEbola and tell G20 countries to step up their commitments before it’s too late. Sign the petition now.

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