Ebola on the frontlines

Early on a Sunday morning in Liberia, West Africa, a small group of CDC Foundation staff, along with representatives of eHealth Africa and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, had the opportunity to see firsthand the challenges and successes that come with tracking down contacts of Ebola patients in Liberia.

On this morning during the Ebola epidemic, the group was led by Dorissa Bestman, a contact tracer in the New Kru Town neighborhood in Monrovia, the nation’s capital city. Dorissa, a nursing student, knew the neighborhood well, having grown up there. Her job during the emergency was to monitor the daily temperatures and potential symptoms of those who had come in close contact with Ebola-infected patients.

Dorissa told the team that at first she encountered a great deal of resistance to her work as a contact tracer. Things began to change, though, as she built trust with her community. In her rounds, Dorissa typically walked many miles through thick sand and over uneven roads in the heat as she followed up with contacts.

The CDC Foundation team headed out early to connect with community members before they went to church later in the morning. At the first house Dorissa visited, she approached an elderly woman who slowly got up and walked over. The woman came in contact with Ebola while caring for her sick brother, who later died. Dorissa took the woman’s temperature, and it was normal. She showed no signs of the disease and had a week to go before reaching the 21-day monitoring period in which Ebola symptoms would arise. She hoped to receive the welcome news that she did not have the disease.

From there, the group began the walk to the next person’s home. On the way, Dorissa pointed to a small house and said, “There were 30 people living there—29 died from Ebola.”

There were 30 people living there—29 died from Ebola.

The house was occupied, but the faint early morning light gave it an eerie appearance. Looking in, it was difficult to imagine the trauma of the lone survivor, who, the group was told, was receiving psychosocial counseling.

Dorissa was taking part in an Ebola case monitoring trial program in Liberia using tablet computers. Funding for both the tablets and the training for the effort was made possible through CDC Foundation donors.The tablets were loaded with software used to track patients and keep their records.

While West Africa is now Ebola free, contact tracers were vitally important to that achievement. The CDC Foundation, our donors and partners were proud to support everyone who played a role in beating back the deadly disease. Today, through investments from our donors, Sierra Leone’s health systems are stronger and more robust, with improved capabilities to prevent future disease outbreaks.

You can make a difference: Join with us to ensure people like Dorissa on the frontlines of emergencies are equipped to protect our health at home and abroad. To learn more, contact advancement@cdcfoundation.org, 404.653.0790.

Photos: © David Snyder/CDC Foundation

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