Reports of a recent outbreak of Ebola leading to 25 deaths in the DemocraticRepublic of Congo has brought the disease back into international headlines, just twoyears after the epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia andSierra Leone.
Liberians continue to recover from that crisis even though thecountry was declared Ebola-free in January 2016. The road back to“normal” has been a long one.
One of the areas hardest hit by the crisis was education. Withthe entire country seemingly at a standstill while trying to halt spread of thedisease, schools were closed from August 2015 until February 2016. Theloss of most of a school year put students behind, and when schools reopened, manystudents lacked the fees to return because their parents had been out of work duringthat time or may have succumbed to the disease.
“At first, it was hard bringing the childrenback,” said the Rev. Charles Fiske, principal of the school at the Bishop Judith Craig Children’s Village in Duahzon.“Many were traumatized in the same way as if there were a war in the country.Bringing things back to a sense of normality takes a lot of effort.”
When Ganta United Methodist School reopened after thefive-month closure, fees for students were waived, which resulted in a shortfall of$2 million LRD (about $14,500 USD), said James Y. Koroloroblee, the school’sinterim acting principal.
“We had to find a means for people to pay so we offeredjobs cleaning the campus during vacation time in exchange for fees. We had to keepthem in school,” he said.
Abullah Buhmean, a 17-year-old student at the school whenUnited Methodist News Service interviewed him in June 2017, was one of the studentswho benefited from a work grant.
“My uncle was sponsoring (my school fees) and when hedied because of the Ebola, there was no way for me to continue school, so the schoolput me on work grant scholarship,” Buhmean said. “As a work grantstudent, I am responsible for cutting the grass around campus.”
View Photos, Read moreJohn Farr displays carvings andbaskets that he makes to help support himself at the Ganta Leprosy and TBRehab Center in Liberia.
Read story, Liberian leper colony a lifetimecommitment to care.
Read story, 'Agriculture is life' for LiberianMethodists.
Read a profile of Bishop Samuel J. Quire.
Read story, Liberian radio broadcasts hope
See photos from United Methodist News Service's trip to Liberiaon our Flickr page.
While teachers and faculty were trying to help students regaintheir lost lesson time, many of them were also coping with personal difficultiesbrought on by the Ebola epidemic.
Ernest Tokpah, an agriculture field supervisor at the school,told UMNS in June 2017 that he had adopted his sister’s four children afterboth she and her husband died from the disease. Stigma about Ebola made an alreadydifficult situation even harder to deal with.
“When my sister and her husband died and I brought thechildren home, the entire community shunned me and the children, and we were left todo things on our own,” he said.
Tokpah said that fear and lack of credible health informationled people to alter almost every facet of daily life.
“Ganta was on fire because of the Ebola,” he said.“We stopped eating together, we stopped shaking hands, and people practicallystopped talking to each other.”
Johnson N. Gwaikolo, former president of United MethodistUniversity in Monrovia and now a member of Liberia’s Legislature, told UMNS inJune 2017 that Ebola set the school back, and reported losing three or four studentsto the disease.
“Every academic semester we project our estimatedenrollment,” Gwaikolo said. “Approaching the start of school, we had halfour estimate, so it delayed our calendar year.”
The university added several hours to class time to catch up,and offered payment plans to students struggling to come up with funds fortuition.
The church also played a role on the medical front line of theoutbreak. During a June 2017 visit, staff at Ganta United Methodist Hospital sharedtheir experience with United Methodist News Service.
David N. Vulu, human resources director at Ganta UnitedMethodist Hospital, said, “There came a point where some areas were no-gobecause of the intensity of the Ebola crisis.”
Vulu said one person affected by the situation got on theradio, frustrated that he was kept in his home with no support.
“The district superintendent of the church here took ateam to talk to this guy and provide support,” he said. “The churchhelped with witness and helping health facilities to carry supplies.”
Ganta Hospital is in a fairly remote area. The next hospitalto the north is 26 miles away; a specialized hospital is about 60 miles away. Whenthe breakout occurred, hospital staff mobilized to address the crisis.
When the number of Ebola patients rose dramatically and therewas no Ebola Treatment Unit set up yet, the hospital allowed the local government touse its eye clinic. Later, the Nimba County Health team and Project ConcernInternational constructed a large containment facility on a nearby rural airstrip.Ganta Hospital staff assisted the medical team running the facility.
Eye and vision problems have surfaced in Ebola survivors, butGanta’s eye clinic tends to refer anyone with such issues to a facility inMonrovia.
“Their treatment is a specialized process andwe’re not equipped to provide services for them,” said Clarence Menleh,supervisor of the eye clinic.
As the hospital lacks a facility to fully isolate patients,its role is often one of referring patients elsewhere. There have been no confirmedcases of Ebola since the outbreak was declared over, but staff now have procedures inplace, said Agatha Neufville, the hospital’s director of nursing.
“Before Ebola, patients could just walk in. After, wedecided to do screening and triage.”
They take everyone’s vitals and temperatures. Evenvisitors have their temperature taken before being allowed in. Patients with feverare placed in a separate area and staff are required to don preventative materialsbefore seeing those patients. If symptoms don’t get better after a few days,patients are transferred to clinics better suited to issues like hemorrhagicfever.
“It was a challenge, not knowing facts about Ebola andyou have to keep working with minimal supplies,” Neufville said. “It wasnot easy but at the end, God was with us and we worked.”
Butler is a multimedia producer/editor and MikeDuBose is staff photographer for United Methodist News Service. JuluSwen, a communicator in Liberia, contributed to this report. News mediacontact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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