After Ebola - Life in Liberia and Sierra Leone

David Heyer, Manager,Hospitaller Brothers, Netherlands recently met Saint John of God Brothers Bernard and Nestor in Cameroon, their home country.

Brother Bernard was sent from Sierra Leone by the Order when the three Brothers there died of Ebola. He performed heroically.

Brother Nestor was a young Brother based in Sierra Leone during the worst of the crisis. Here are their stories:

 Interview with Brother Bernard Benda, June 2nd 2015

  How did you feel when the Provincial sent you to Liberia in the summer of 2014?
"I had mixed feelings; fearful but also courageous. ?I did not believe I could die. I was confident because my fate was in the hands of God. I was fearful because we had already lost three Brothers and Sister Chantal in our hospital in Monrovia.
And remember, I was being transferred from Sierra Leone. Where I came from was not very safe. But the panic in Liberia was much greater. In August, there was really a disaster in progress: everyone was terrified.  The grip of Ebola was all around and nobody knew what to do. What I drew considerable courage from was the fact that the people I knew from my earlier period (2006 to 2012) in Liberia, were all still alive. Then I could hope to be safe too.

When did you realize that the situation in Liberia had improved?

 "The people of Liberia were serious. They followed carefully the instructions on the radio and in the newspapers. There were posters everywhere; on the radio we constantly heard the horror stories of people who had survived narrowly."Ebola was real." People observed the protocols. I began to get the feeling that something was about to change when the continuous wail of ambulance sirens fell silent... That was a sign that it was really less. The number of people in the Ebola centers declined. There were fewer infected. The system seemed to work.

 While Liberia in the summer of 2014 was much worse, that country is now Ebola-free while Sierra Leone is still far from it. Why is that?

?Personally, I think two reasons; first of all this is cultural. In Sierra Leone, there are many more Muslims, who have very specific rituals when they bury someone. These are age-old customs and the people do not want to let go of them.

In Liberia, it seemed much easier to apply security. It was understood that if a family member had Ebola, that they could not touch him/her. So they put someone on the street to die.  In Sierra Leone the Ebola cases were often hidden from the authorities." 

What has this experience of living for almost a year and working in an Ebola environment, taught you?

"It has given me a lot of zeal. My goal was to be there for my patients. That is why I am in Liberia."

You've met the President because she came to the hospital to thank you for your role during the Ebola crisis. Was this the confirmation to you that you were doing the right thing?

"No not really. But the recognition was quite nice of course. I was the one who had to send most of the staff home when we had to close for three months. It was heartbreaking. And I had no experience of how to deal with it.

There was no money to pay them. The hospital had no income. However, many staff had stayed away too long after our first Brothers died of Ebola, because they did not feel safe. I had to speak to the President on behalf of the Brothers, I had no experience of this, but I spoke easily and it went well off.

All this misery has made me grow as a person, it also gave me energy. I speak the truth when I say that I've grown up myself. I have become stronger, especially mentally.
The Ebola crisis also contributed to the awareness in Monrovia that everyone knows who the Hospitaller Brothers are in Monrovia. We were a beacon in the darkest time after the civil war. Inside the hospital it was also the start of a new phase: we have turned a new page. We are beginning again - all together.  Everyone must shoulder the burden. Quality care for our patients must again become the norm after Ebola. At this moment the children’s departments are open again. Ebola has affected the infrastructure of the hospital and equipment but also in terms of human resources. We have lost people: doctors have fled and did not return. From now on it can only get better. Liberia remains Ebola-free and hopefully we can go on with what we have come to Liberia to do: provide good care. ?

Interview with Brother Nestor Bamboye, June 3, 2015

 Nestor comes from a small village in northeastern Cameroon. He is the only child of the first wife of his father. Unusually he is the only child of a mother. His mother ensured that he could study.  He joined the Brothers in 2003.

"When I was in high school I never had the idea of becoming a Brother. But my aunt was a laboratory technician at the hospital of the Brothers in Nguti, Cameroon. I arrived there on vacation and liked how the Brothers interacted with each other. They were always together and very friendly. In addition, the work with the needy attracted me. I wanted to help others. I also wanted to be a doctor. "

How did you feel when you were sent to Sierra Leone in 2014?

 "I heard a lot about Ebola but had no idea of ??the impact and danger. I felt that it was similar to typhoid. I was totally unprepared. But in my first week in Lunsar I saw that something was going on and after one month the first hospital staff warden was already ill. As a lab technician I know how important it is to work safely. I understood I had  to protect myself - that's second nature. Through the use of chlorine and safety gloves I remained alive.

As the Superior, the Brother who watches over the welfare of the other Brothers, I was the one who had to go to Brother Manuel when he was sick and was in his room. I had to convince him that he had to be isolated. Manuel was convinced that he had only malaria. He had been Medical Director in Lunsar for more than ten years and hadmalaria countless times. And he felt that his symptoms were those of malaria .Brother Manuel was not ready to die. He had a tremendous love for his patients: he was like a father to them. He could not let it happen that patients could no longer count on him. He also did not want to be repatriated (to Spain). When he was tested positive he wanted us to let him die in Sierra Leone. He said to me in the Ebola center. ?Africa has been my home for almost 50 years.
His loss was a huge shock in two ways. We lost a beloved Brother and a highly respected doctor who helped thousands of patients. But secondly, we were scared for our own lives. He had lived with us. Ebola is transmitted by contact and weall had contact with him. We were sad and sad and scared.?

Why is there is no Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone is not yet free of it?

 "That is culturally determined. The culture and rituals of the body wash after death is difficult to eradicate; it takes a lot of effort to convince the people otherwise. In addition, Sierra Leoneans like the Irish are very nice people. They are very physical especially when they greet each other; they will not change this willingly. It's part of the culture.?

You are in Cameroon for a conference but you come from Sierra Leone. How do you ensure that you are not infecting others?

 "I stayed in quarantine for 21 days; I wash my hands with chlorine and have no physical contact with others. I met here in Cameroon, my family, my father, my mother. I am very conscientious about it. But it's my responsibility. I measure my temperature each morning, even here, after the 21 days."

 What has this crisis has taught you?

"The value of life!  We must be responsible in what we do. You are responsible for your own life. Your life belongs to you! And you are responsible for your own happiness. Despite the crisis, we have to cherish our lives. " 




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