“I became a nurse because I strongly believe that it is one of the most significant ways of serving humanity."
The 2014 Ebola epidemic was the most widespread and deadly outbreak of the virus the world had ever seen, resulting in massive loss of life.
Many communities were understandably gripped with fear, and this led to negative consequences for our nurses in West Africa, who continued providing services throughout.
Mary Kaifineh, a nurse with Marie Stopes Sierra Leone, tells us what this experience was like for her and how she worked with the community to regain their trust.
To support Marie Stopes Sierra Leone’s involvement in the fight against Ebola, I was asked to serve as an Ebola response co-ordinator alongside my work as an outreach nurse.
“I became a nurse because I strongly believe that it is one of the most significant ways of serving humanity. Yet it is one of the most vulnerable professions, because it requires you to come into contact with people who are sick with highly contagious diseases.
“Before the outbreak of Ebola, I was focused on providing family planning services to marginalised and under-served communities across Port Loko district. However, to support MS Sierra Leone’s involvement in the fight against Ebola, I was asked to serve as an Ebola response co-ordinator alongside my work as an outreach nurse. I was happy to step up and take on this new challenge and soon received training on Ebola infection prevention and control.
“Even before I assumed my new role, I had faced many challenges, humiliations and rejections for working in areas affected by Ebola. One challenge I had to deal with was a drastic drop in clients for our family planning services."
The communities that once welcomed us before the Ebola outbreak started to reject all health workers for fear that they would spread the virus.
“This created so much discomfort to me personally. They drove us away from their villages. This happened in almost every village we visited.
“I realised something needed to be done. I called a meeting with my colleagues and we decided to visit the communities in plain clothes and without the Marie Stopes Sierra Leone vehicles.
“It worked and once we gained access, we started to rebuild trust. As soon as we had regained people’s confidence, we were able to continue our work as before.
Nearly all of our Sierra Leone team members are Sierra Leonean nationals who live in communities that were infected by Ebola. Everyone was well aware of the risks at the time, but the alternative of not working and supporting their country was unthinkable for them.
Mary continues: “Today, the outreach team is welcomed in all the villages. Communities that earlier chased us away have gathered at town squares waiting just to say thanks to me and the team for being there for them when all hope was lost.
“They queue up for services in numbers waiting for our vehicles to arrive. We are the only source of family planning for many young women and they sometimes demonstrate their gratitude by dancing to our outreach jingle."
It is this courage that defines our teams, and this commitment to the communities they serve that drives our mission forward.