What was the Ebola virus outbreak?
The worst Ebola epidemic on record originated in West Africa in March 2014 and by the end of 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) reported more than 28,600 confirmed or suspected cases and some 11,300 deaths. Cases were reported in 10 countries though more than 99 per cent were confined to three: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
The Canadian Red Cross sent doctors, nurses, and other health and disaster response workers to all three countries to support Ebola response operations.
What is the Ebola virus?
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe illness that has had fatality rates as high as 90 per cent. It first appeared in 1976 in Sudan and an area of the Democratic Republic of Congo close to the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. It is introduced to humans through contact with infected dead wild animals and spreads human-to-human through contact with blood, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people or contaminated surfaces and materials like clothing or bedding. Initial symptoms such as fever, pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhoea are symptomatic of several common diseases, making it challenging to diagnose early. Later symptoms are more specific like skin rashes, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some case internal or external bleeding.
West Africa Ebola: How the Red Cross helped
The Canadian Red Cross response was part of a concerted international effort, coordinated with the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), National Societies in each of the impacted countries, and agencies such as the World Health Organization. We sent more than 50 medical and technical personnel to Ebola Treatment Centres in Sierra Leone and Guinea and to support operations in Liberia. Through the deployment of staff, resources and through funding, we supported four critical activities:
To control and contain the spread of Ebola, time is of the essence. The Red Cross established Ebola Treatment Centres in the Kenema and Kono regions of Sierra Leone and in Macenta and Forécariah, Guinea, and supported response operations in Liberia.
Care for the Deceased:
After someone dies from Ebola, the viral load is at its highest, making deceased bodies extremely contagious. Red Cross volunteers helped families prevent further infection by carrying out safe but dignified removal and burial of their loved ones.
Contact Tracing and Monitoring:
Once someone contracted Ebola, Red Cross volunteers searched for those who had been in contact with the infected individual so they could be monitored for infection and treated quickly if they became sick.
Education and Social Mobilization:
Red Cross teams went door-to-door and held countless information meetings to raise awareness of symptoms and the urgency of reporting and treating all suspected cases. They supported Ebola survivors and their families and worked to change attitudes to ensure survivors and health workers were not feared or stigmatized in the community.
Through the generous support of Canadians, as well as corporate and government donations, over $18.9 million was raised to support this operation.
How the Red Cross is continuing to help:
The Red Cross is now focused on helping communities and people recover from the Ebola outbreak. This includes psychosocial support to survivors and/or surviving family members, helping to reopen schools, helping to get businesses back in production and more.
The Ebola outbreak significantly impacted health care in affected countries. The Red Cross is supporting the restoration and strengthening of basic health care services, to help ensure both rapid detection and response to any new outbreak or re-emergence of Ebola as well as other diseases like cholera and malaria.