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The current Ebola crisis in Africa will have far-reaching consequences for generations to come. Advances in development that took years to accomplish are starting to vanish as three of the poorest countries in West Africa struggle to get Ebola under control. Official estimates say that more than 5,000 people have lost their lives. However, the true number is likely to be far higher as under-resourced contact teams cannot cover the vast distances in these countries.

“The children are very bored, and they want the schools to open. They are begging for the schools to open but they have to stay at home,” says Sr. Teresa pictured with two of the students from the Diomplar Primary and Junior Secondary school in Kono District in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. Photo: Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny.

“The children are very bored, and they want the schools to open. They are begging for the schools to open but they have to stay at home,” says Sr. Teresa pictured with two of the students from the Diomplar Primary and Junior Secondary school in Kono District in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. Photo: Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny.

“Already some of our members have had to stop part of their work,” says Misean Cara CEO, Heydi Foster.

“Water, sanitation, health and education projects in the works for years are now on hold. Our members tell us that local communities desperately want the schools and health clinics to re-open, but there is little they can do until curfews and quarantines are lifted.

“The people’s needs cannot be over-estimated. For Ebola directly, our members provide new beds and medical equipment for hospitals, protective clothing for frontline medical staff, food and water supplies, and temporary shelters.”

Heydi explains that there is also a great need for maternal and child health care. Pregnant women are not getting proper care, resulting in an increase in miscarriages, breech births, and pre-eclampsia. In Sierra Leone women make up 51% of the population. Before this Ebola outbreak the country had one of the world’s highest mortality rates with almost 9 women in 1,000 dying from pregnancy- related issues. Statistics are not available, but our members report an increase in the death rate as women pay the ultimate price for the Ebola crisis.

During happier times Sr. Teresa worked with communities in Kono District in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. Photo: Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny.

During happier times Sr. Teresa worked with communities in Kono District in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. Photo: Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny.

As the only organisation funding Irish missionaries, we have re-allocated €250,000 to our Emergency Response Funding scheme so that missionary organisations can receive money as quickly as possible. Since August, Misean Cara has made Ebola a priority, giving over €350,000 in response to requests for emergency funding. Sr. Teresa McKeown from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, Streamstown, Co. Westmeath, is leading fundraising efforts in Ireland at present. She was in Ireland for a holiday when her return ticket to Sierra Leone was cancelled in September. Sr Teresa is in constant contact with her sisters in Freetown by phone and it is their determination to stay in solidarity with the communities they support that spurs her on.

“The sisters are all working there and they are scared. That’s the common word that comes through all the time,” says Sr. Teresa.

“They’re scared and all I can tell them is take care. I would say Freetown is one of the hardest hit places because it was over-crowded after the war and the people never went back to where they are from. There’s no proper sanitation there, so it will be very difficult to get control of the situation.” She explains that even before the Ebola outbreak, the people would come to the sisters if there was an emergency, an operation or something out of the ordinary, because they are so poor.

“It’s just very difficult to accept the situation and I am 60 years there,” she says. She believes that governments and international organisations have a responsibility to act.

“The international response was too slow. I was just so angry that they were too slow, taking it too easy at the beginning, especially organisations like the World Health Organisation that should be responding fast.

“Now they’re coming in, but you almost feel that it’s too late, too little too late. I’m just hoping and praying that they get a drug that will be able to control it.

“Although the drug will control the Ebola, the sickness itself, it won’t cure the poverty,” says Sr. Teresa.

Read the original article on page 12 of the January issue of Alive!