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'We should be worried about Ebola - but for Africa, not ourselves'

Darren Hanniffy just came home from Liberia, where Ebola infections are DOUBLING every two weeks.

10609528_10152782603069587_4441853245064773603_n Source: Darren Hanniffy via Facebook

DARREN HANNIFFY IS Senior Manager at GOAL, the Irish aid organisation, and returned just yesterday from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, where 1,578 people have been killed by the ongoing Ebola outbreak.

Amid concerns about the United States’ first confirmed case of the disease in a man returning from the West African country, Hanniffy says the rate of Ebola infection there is now doubling every 15 days.

“We should be worried about Ebola. But for Africa, not for ourselves,” he told TheJournal.ie this morning.

We should be concerned about the children in Africa being left orphans because both their parents have died from the disease.
My colleagues in Liberia told me terrible stories.One arrived in a house, only to find a mother dead on the floor, and her child sitting with her, now almost certainly infected with Ebola as well.

The Irish aid worker draws a stark comparison between the abilities of West African and Western nations to handle cases of the infection.

We have seen Ebola in 10 different countries. There were suspected cases in France and the UK, and it hasn’t spread.
Now we have this confirmed case in the US. Watch, though – it will not spread. I can guarantee you that.

Here is a World Health Organisation (WHO) map showing the intensity and distribution of Ebola infection in West Africa.

geographic-map-16-sep-2014 Source: WHO

The concern, in developed countries like Ireland, must be shifted from unlikely future Ebola infections here, to the rampant, existing outbreak there, he says.

I understand people’s fears. We have our own fears. Now that I’m back from Liberia, I’ll be very worried for the next 21 days [the onset window].
But I’m experienced, so I know what the symptoms are and what to do if I develop them.
But while you’re concerned – be concerned about all those people in Africa who can do nothing about this.

10622923_10152782602969587_7704537744983143239_n Source: Darren Hanniffy

Meanwhile, countries like Liberia are in desperate need of help in attempting to deal with the outbreak, which the WHO yesterday said had passed 6,500 cases and 3,000 deaths.

Those predictions about 1.4 million cases by January? “That will happen,” says Hanniffy, “if we don’t respond and become effective.”

In Liberia, the infection rate is now doubling every 15 days. That’s a frightening statistic, particularly in an urban setting like Monrovia, where people live side by side.
There are simply not enough aid organisations and charities on the ground. There aren’t enough medical staff.
There are only six Ebola treatment centres in Liberia, but we need 20.

dave goal58 GOAL workers in Freetown, Sierra Leone, before the recent lockdown there. Source: GOAL

Despite a significant shortfall in funding, GOAL has actually scaled up its response to Ebola in West Africa, and now runs one of Liberia’s handful of treatment facilities.

GOAL has spent more than we’ve received. Our most recent funding – that was spent before we even got it.  We’ve literally had to donate our own vehicles.

The organisation is appealing to the Irish people to dig deep and make whatever contribution they can. They are also urgently hiring medical staff.

“Our work in West Africa will never be as important as it is now,” says Hanniffy.

Life in the time of Ebola

Hanniffy says daily life goes on in Monrovia, because it “has to go on.” Markets continue to operate, but the economy has been badly hit by the Ebola outbreak.

There has been massive inflation. It’s been very difficult to get supplies into the country because access is so limited. Everything is just more onerous.

Despite the best efforts of the Liberian people, Hanniffy says that during his visit, there was “an air of tension.”

10613086_10152782602729587_1118620417852653393_n Source: Darren Hanniffy via Twitter

Everyone is aware of Ebola. There’s screening and sanitation facilities every time you go in and out of public buildings.
There is chlorinated water everywhere. I carried a sanitary solution on my waist. You end up washing your hands about 20 times a day.

There is one custom that has been almost completely eradicated from ordinary life in Liberia – the handshake.

There is no shaking hands. It’s really frowned upon if someone attempts to shake your hand – it’s seen as a sign of a lack of awareness.
Many people touch elbows now, instead, or they touch their own chests as a greeting.I don’t touch anybody.

For more information on Goal, click here. To donate to their Ebola Appeal, click here. To inquire about working as medical staff, click here.

Opinion: ‘The lockdown of Sierre Leone won’t have a significant impact in dealing with Ebola’>

Irish aid workers travel to Sierre Leone to help with Ebola outbreak>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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