Johannesburg: The first batch of trained healthcare professionals, who were deployed to Sierra Leone to help contain the spread of Ebola Disease Virus, has returned to South Africa with good news.
They said the number of Ebola cases was declining in Sierra Leone and there was hope that the disease will soon be contained.
On their arrival in Sierra Leone, several Ebola cases were reported every week but when they left the country, the numbers dropped to three to no cases reported per week.
A group of healthcare professionals, comprising a medical doctor and professional nurses left to Sierra Leone on 23 January and returned to South Africa on 22 March.
After they completed their 21 days quarantine at home, where they were monitored daily, they made time to speak to media in Johannesburg on Thursday about their experience.
They all returned without having contracted the disease and also helped to reduce the number of Ebola cases in Sierra Leone.
During their stay in Sierra Leone, they treated about 98 Ebola patients of which 32% of them survived. They worked together with other health workers from Sierra Leone and international countries such as Italy, United Kingdom, Serbia, Ireland and South Korea.
Neo Mokone, 28, who spoke to SAnews days before boarding the plane to Sierra Leone in January, said at the time she felt a need to help contain the disease as a professional nurse and an African before it could break out to other parts of Africa.
Speaking to SAnews on her return on Thursday, she said she gained so much general experience in infection control, not only to treat Ebola but general infections.
She said every day spent in Sierra Leone was filled with mixed emotions – both good and bad.
“Seeing patients being discharged gave me hope. Seeing a seven-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy survive this deadly disease and going home to their families was just amazing.
“There were also a lot of emotional moments. Every day brought up a lot of emotions, considering the fact that we were far from our homes. It was actually more difficult than I thought, but we managed to keep it all together. We made it and we are glad to be back home,” said Mokone.
Mokone said she had an opportunity to work in the British and Korean Intensive Care Unit (ICU), although language was sometimes a bit of a barrier.
“The most important thing that I have learned was to always follow infection control protocol, to contain any type of disease,” said Mokone.
She said she gained more knowledge and experience than what she initially had before she left to Sierra Leone.
“We were working every day and there was no time to rest. We only got time to rest on the last week because we had no patients in the ICU, that was just before we came back to South Africa,” she said.
She said most of her fellow healthcare workers at the centre, of Sierra Leone origin, were not yet professionals but student nurses.
“Only a few of them were professionals. They were 53 in total and only less than 20 of them were professionals. On arrival, we found professionals from international countries already at work. They trained and showed us how to work in the ICU.
“We had to prepare treatment outside the unit, unlike in the normal ward, and always make sure that we are in our protective clothes when treating patients,” said Mokone.
Infected healthcare worker
Mokone’s colleague Lucy Thukwane told SAnews that her most emotional moment was when one of their fellow healthcare workers contracted the disease and was admitted to ICU.
“His health was deteriorating. We started to become paranoid every time one of us had a headache. You would wonder if it is only a headache or is it going to be accompanied by fever or something else.
“But in less than two weeks we saw him recovering and starting to walk again, and he survived the disease. He was the only one who contracted the disease,” said Thukwane.
Right to Care organisation
The deployment was facilitated by Right to Care organisation in partnership with the National Department of Health, adhering to a call from the African Union to South Africa to give a helping hand in the fight against the scourge of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Right to Care Chief Executive Officer Professor Ian Sanne said the number of Ebola cases in Sierra Leone is declining and it is envisaged that the disease will soon be contained.
He said the National Department of Health continues to give support to the West African countries affected by Ebola, as there are currently 19 other healthcare professionals from the second group deployed in Sierra Leone who are still helping to fight the disease.
Sanne said there might not be a need to send another group to the country as the number of cases are declining.
Healthcare system in West Africa
Another health professional Ishmael Mbulawa, 27, told SAnews that the primary healthcare system in Sierra Leone is very poor and South Africa and the international community are helpful in rebuilding it.
“There is a huge gap between the South African Health System and West African system. We have a high number of professional nurses in South Africa but in Sierra Leone you find that the system is depending heavily on student nurses because there are not enough professional nurses,” he said.
He said the healthcare system and the economy of the country might have been crippled by civil war, adding that Ebola worsened the situation. He also said the political structure in Sierra Leone is still new and they are still trying to catch up.
SOURCE: South African Official News