Friday, 19 December 2014

What Ebola can teach us about the endurance of the human spirit

Reading my TIME magazine entitled ‘Stopping Ebola’ I’m looking at a front page with a big blue surgical glove. Other images I have seen are of cold, clinical lab settings with the headlines ‘Killer Virus!’ and masks. Lots of masks and they make it very difficult for me to think about the people behind them. Or the people at the heart of this latest health outbreak, and not just the virus itself.

 Although not everyone has lost sight of the people. Those like Geoff Eaton know that it’s not just about stopping the virus, but equipping those that are affected by the virus with the power to manage the outbreak. Our greatest weapon, he believes, are the people. Not just the pharmaceutical companies like GSK and J&J, who are gearing themselves up to provide drugs; it’s the people who are important.
Geoff sits on the International board of Masanga hospital. You’ve probably never heard of it, even though you read in your papers every day about the Ebola virus. Masanga is in Sierra Leone, which as you will know from those papers is one of the areas in West Africa much affected by the outbreak.

Masanga has a long history of providing Sierra Leone with healthcare – responsible for the care of 400,000 people in the district of Tonkolili – first as a leprosy hospital, built in a remote location. It’s a setting which makes it ideal for the task at hand of aiding those with Ebola and other health issues in Sierra Leone.

I don’t really like to talk figures because if you, like me have trouble quantifying them in real terms, then they don’t tend to carry much weight. But one figure did hit home. The budget of Masanga hospital is $400,000 a year. Sound a lot? Not when you put it into context that the cost of one single kidney organ transplant is around $246,000 in the US. And that doesn’t include the dollar amounts of the procedure or the non-medical costs. Staggering.

So why have I chosen to talk about Masanga hospital?  Well, there are many hospitals in Africa that are struggling with the Ebola outbreak. They are underfunded, under resourced and some lack the knowledge of how to perform basic, lifesaving procedures. We could talk about all of those, but then how would we know the best way to make a difference? What we could do to help?
Well, Masanga to me is an example of what one hospital is doing, but what many can do. Though clinical activities have been suspended due to the Ebola outbreak, the hospital  hasn’t given up hope. Geoff Eaton says:

“We hope to recommence activities as soon as we can safely isolate patients; we have a reliable and clean water supply and an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.”

Geoff has fond memories of Masanga. In our interview, he gave me a rich, descriptive walk-through of the hospital and its layout from his visits there in 2012. When he tells me about the make-shift shower they built in the jungle you actually feel his pride in the place and the people he met.
Which is why he has aimed to continue the good work of Masanga, not only in the short term but also in the long term too. Working with a huge international network, they are focused on many initiatives that include a surgical training programme to help increase the number of qualified surgeons in the (entire) country from a tiny 10 to as many as possible. They are also using gamification to train remote community healthcare workers with the knowledge and skills they need to perform more and more procedures. They can achieve this using tablets and web platforms to reach those communities, employing the types of technologies which are vital to overcoming the challenges of illiteracy in some areas.

This isn’t just about the Ebola outbreak, nor is it about the hospital, but it’s about the long lasting empowerment of the people there.
And what is Geoff doing to help those people?

Inspired by Masanga hospital’s refusal to give up the programme, on the 25th and 26th October he and his son ran their fifth Mountain Marathon, which he explains as an exhilarating test of survival instincts, navigational skills and the bond between father and son. There are times when you want to quit during the 2 day marathon in the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland (See pictures below) he told me, but you are driven forwards by the innate desire within us all to keep going, against all odds.

This isn’t about Ebola’s ability to adapt and survive in the human world. It’s about the enduring nature of the human spirit, our ability to work together and find solutions, sharing our experiences and teaching those lessons to each other, so that the knowledge will continue to evolve and inspire long lasting change for the better. Giving Ebola a face helps to remember that – not the figure behind the mask or the squiggly magnified Filovirus – and what better face than Masanga hospital as it continues to fight despite all the setbacks it has endured.

Geoff and his son Patrick have already raised a whopping total of £49,139.05, but if you’re interested in donating then it’s still possible; click here for more details
Also, the hospital initiative has been selected by the Telegraph for their annual Christmas appeal, link here

To learn more about Masanga hospital and the work they are doing, visit the website

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