Quarantining an entire community to stamp out a new case of Ebola requires a complex operation to reduce the strain for residents who suddenly find themselves behind an orange plastic barrier. And in rural Sierra Leone there are additional challenges – in normal times food is often bought on a day-to-day basis from a nearby market, health facilities can be at some distance, and water is almost never piped into the home.
In a 21-day quarantine, water supplies are particularly important, both for everyday needs, and also to promote the essential hygiene practises that can help prevent Ebola transmission. But the challenge is not just delivering tens of thousands of litres of water each day, but also taking care to make sure responders are protected from contact with residents who have been in the vicinity of an Ebola case.
In the quarantined village of Massesebe in Sierra Leone’s Tonkolili district, this is where Ebola survivor Kadiatu Konteh stepped in.
“Ebola is very hard, it is not child’s play,” said Kadiatu. “Ebola has so many constraints. It was very painful and I felt really bad when I was sick.” Using her new-found resistance to the disease, she worked with other members of their ‘Ebola Survivors’ Association’ in the delivery of water.
“I have sympathy for these people, because I know the pain of quarantine,” said Kadiatu. “I bring water for the quarantine people. It is important for us to do this because we are survivors. We know the constraints of their situation. So we decided to help them.”
When the new case came to light in Tonkolili, which had gone 150 days without a case, UNICEF arranged the dispatch of water storage tanks for the community. One tank was placed adjacent to the compound where 16 high-risk contacts who came in direct contact with the deceased man were staying, isolated from the rest of the village. UNICEF also ensures water is trucked in regularly to fill the tanks, and that there is enough drinking water for everyone.
Kadiatu’s survivor team take the water on the final leg of its journey, from the tanks to the people. They fill their jerry-cans to deliver a minimum of 40 litres to each individual per day. Then, the survivors transfer the water into the water containers placed outside the quarantine perimeter by villagers.
“At least 20 times a day we deliver water,” said Kadiatu. “It is hard work, but it is necessary. The quarantined people appreciate the help that we are giving. They are very happy, and they encourage us when we get tired.”
Kadiatu is not only providing essential services for the community and the success of the quarantine, she is also helping herself.
“I lost nearly all my immediate family members – father, mother, sisters, brothers to Ebola,” said Kadiatu. “Only one sister survived. I live alone now. I take care of myself. I am happy that I have this work, they pay me 20,000 Leones (4 USD) per day, and I will use it for food and school.”
Sierra Leone is estimated to have more than 4000 Ebola survivors , sometimes living with continuing health problems and having often lost livelihoods and family members to the virus.
“I am a student in Form 3 studying Art,” said Kadiatu. In the future I want to be a lawyer because I want to see justice being done. For example, if a man of 40 decided to rape a 5-year-old, I will make sure justice is done.”
UNICEF is providing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, social mobilization, psycho-social and child protection support to the emergency response in Tonkolili District, including during the post-quarantine period.
As part of the post-Ebola recovery programme in Massesebe, UNICEF is rehabilitating two existing shallow wells in the village and equipping them with hand pumps. UNICEF has reconnected two public tap stands to the main water pipeline transporting water through the village to the neighboring town and district. UNICEF is also supporting the rehabilitation of WASH facilities in health facilities and primary schools in the district.
UNICEF’s USD 178 million appeal to respond to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, remains under-funded, with 123.3 million received to date, leaving a funding gap of USD 54.7 million.
Indrias G. Kassaye is a Communications Specialist working with UNICEF Sierra Leone