WAHA International is developing a community-based project to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The disease is disproportionately affecting women and having a devastating impact on maternal health in the affected countries.
An outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EBV) that first began in the forested areas in South-Eastern Guinea in March 2014 is continuing to spread largely unabated throughout West Africa. The virus has already killed more than 1,427 people and infected more than 2,615 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. A separate outbreak of the disease was also reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In response to the Ebola outbreak, in April 2014 WAHA dispatched a team of two nurses and a logistician from one of our projects in Conakry to Guekedou to support a French Red Cross Emergency Response Team in its activities in Guinea. The activities focused on supervising 150 Guinean Red Cross volunteers in their efforts to disinfect the environment (cadavers, homes, equipment) and to follow-up with people who may have come into contact with infected persons. The team also carried out an awareness raising campaign within the population to provide information about how the virus is transmitted and the hygiene practices to adopt in order to prevent further spread of the virus.
In August 2014, WAHA was invited by the office of the President of Sierra Leone to prepare a project to intervene in affected districts using a similar approach to the one we have adopted in Guinea. WAHA International’s specially designed motorcycle ambulances are already being used to transport Ebola patients to medical centers from remote areas.
WAHA’s programs will focus on mobilizing, educating and involving local communities in order to effectively respond to the outbreak. Additionally, we have developed an e-learning module in the application of infectious disease epidemiology for health workers in the Ebola outbreak in order to help build their capacity to control the further spread of the disease. Our programs will also incorporate an mHealth intervention to facilitate date collection and case reporting through mobile phone-based applications and SMS campaigns for health workers and affected communities.
Women are disproportionately affected by the Ebola outbreak
WAHA’s community-based project will include a special focus on women as they are being disproportionately affected by the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. Across all the affected countries, women make up between 55 and 60% of the deceased. In Liberia, the government has reported that approximately 75% of Ebola victims in the country were women. Cultural practices explain this gender disparity. In many West African countries, women are traditionally expected to be the primary caregivers for sick family members and relatives. Women are also often responsible for preparing the funerals of family members who have passed away. Furthermore, women comprise a large section of the health workers – including traditional birth attendants, nurses, cleaners, and laundry workers in hospitals – who are at the forefront of responding to the current crisis. These women may not get the same support and protection as doctors, who are mostly men, and are therefore at greater risk of being infected with the disease.
Additionally, the current outbreak is having a negative impact on maternal healthcare in the affected countries. Pregnant women are at high risk of contracting the disease because of frequent visits to healthcare centers.  As a result, in some cases pregnant women are being turned away from health centers, as healthcare workers are afraid the women will be exposed to the virus. This is contributing to further maternal and newborn deaths in countries where the maternal and child mortality rates are already among the highest in the world. Women are forced to give birth at home, without the assistance of skilled birth attendants, putting them at greater risk of complications – including contracting HIV from non-sterilized equipment – or even death.  WAHA will therefore work to support the local health systems to help ensure that women and children continue to have access to quality maternal and child healthcare services.