After Ebola

Episodes

First
Broadcast
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20160104

Dr Wright, Director of the Bradford Institute for Health Research, recorded his experiences at the height of the epidemic from the point of his arrival in Sierra Leone: one of the first wave of thirty NHS volunteers. Recording as he went, he documented the struggles to reconcile the safe opening and staffing of the centres with the need to meet the huge demand as cases spread in the community. He was based at the Moyamba centre, which was built by the British army in just six weeks and was run by a consortium of local and international doctors and nurses. In the country as a whole there were 14,089 cases of Ebola, with 10,134 people surviving: Dr Wright is keen to track what is happening to these survivors.

Twelve months on he is back in Moyamba, recording as decontamination teams move in to safely shut the clinic he helped open. It will mean the end of employment for nurses like Janet and Rose, who worked alongside him when the centre opened: "The contrast is unsettling. I go out for a few weeks and get feted with undeserved glory," he tells listeners: "They put their lives at risk during the entire epidemic and get made redundant." He is also concerned about how the local Moyamba hospital will cope, particularly given the rudimentary state of equipment there. They have run out of basic supplies and have a generator that is from the 1960's. Their pharmacy cupboards are bare - in stark contrast to those at the Ebola Treatment Centre.

It is with some trepidation that he returns to Sierra Leone: "coming back to the battlefield one year on and after the war has been won." One of his roles is to look at how to strengthen local health care systems and he takes listeners into schools and clinics to see what is happening. A study involving 100 survivors is underway locally and meets some of those who are being monitored, including a few that came through the clinic for treatment when he was originally there. About half of them are showing ongoing eye and joint problems, along with other symptoms - Ebola has even been found to live in semen for up to nine months after exposure.

In these recordings he takes listeners with him along the streets as he is welcomed back by groups chanting "Dr John, Dr John," in sing-song voices. They are happy to see him return and keen to explain what has changed since he left. But their optimism does little to hide the worrying fall in childhood immunization rates, the rise in unplanned pregnancies and the spread of other infectious diseases: "The gulf in resources between our Ebola Treatment Centre and the hospital is disturbing. Their labs have run out of even the basic equipment, like needles to take blood samples. We need to be aware that the end of Ebola does not mean the end of our work in Sierra Leone.".