Minutes of latest Link meeting (Nov 20th)

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link

Minutes of the Ordinary General Meeting of 20th November 2014


Present: Jacqui Lockwood, Richard Homewood (chair), David Turner, Christine Boulton-Lane, Richard Lane, Ray Keene, Lynn White, Sue Furness, Eve Martin, Edwin Rew, Roger Mitchell, Mandy Hinxman, Diane Reed, Janet Jarvis, Nola McSweeney, Derek Tomblin, Liz MacKay, Melanie Bray, Eileen & Bill Evans, Paul Cabban, Tom Collins, Cllr Nigel Sinden, Robin Gray (minutes)

1 Apologies for absence: Fiona McGregor, John Geater.

2 Minutes of the meeting of 3rd September. Accepted, with the addition of Nigel Sinden and Edwin Rew to the list of Apologies made. Matters arising: 7(b): Richard has had no response from his Navy contact about the possibility of shipping goods for us. He will try again.5(b) Mandy reported that there is a technical problem with the well at Jui. M.Kamara has spoken to the contractors. Richard will ask Kainde to look into it, and will contact Mohamed Koroma in London.

3 Media protocol & branding

(a) Media Protocol. Richard introduced a draft media protocol, setting out how we should present material on Link activities to the media. The draft contains useful advice on what to include, and lays down how such material might be authorised. Members are asked to send any comments on the draft (see Draft Media Protocol (Appendix D)) to Robin ( We will look at the issue again at the next meeting.

(b) Recent Press coverage. Richard displayed enlarged copies of recent Observer coverage of our events. With Kevin Boorman’s help, we now get good coverage in the local press. However, shortage of staff on the paper means that we have to submit good quality material, ready for print.

(c) Banner and logo. Richard showed four versions of an updated title & logos. See Appendix A for the versions we agreed to use. It may be possible to find a more correct tone of blue for the stripes.

(d) Trifold leaflet. Richard has re-vamped the Link’s leaflet. The new version was enthusiastically received. Let Robin know if you wish to suggest any corrections or changes. (Click on images below to see trifold leaflet full size )

Outer pagesTrifold New (inner)

4 Recent fundraising events. We quickly reviewed recent events, which it was agreed were all a success except for our attendance at the Charities Fair, which raised little interest. The meeting expressed its particular appreciation to Liz for her work on the posh jumble sale, and for Roger for the gala concert. The Big Jump has raised over £2100. Richard and Ellen White, Matt and Hollie Lockwood and Richard are keen to see some of this money used to benefit schools as well as the Health Centre. Dain Jensen’s Beachy Head Marathon (which involves climbing a gruelling 4900’ over all) raised over £1500. ‘Pick Your Cards Right’ at the White Rock Hotel’s anniversary party (by kind invitation of Lawrence Bell) was ideally suited to the occasion and raised £230. Nola reported that we are well on the way to raising £700 with the orange quiz sheets. Jo Avery, a colleague of Diane Reed’s husband at the DoT, organised a Cheese Fest and raised a magnificent £167 for the Link.

5 Future fundraising events. (a) Priory Meadow Christmas Lights switch-on. A small band of bucket-shakers is organised. They will collect while the Hastings Town Choir is singing for us.

(b) Universal Children’s Day school fundraising – Nov 20th. Our schools are running a wide variety of fundraising activities to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Roger explained that Hastings SL teachers are not on the whole being paid. What is raised will be pooled and divided between the SL schools on the basis of the numbers of teachers they have. The teachers know about the initiative. Roger will do a press release subsequently.

(c) A small group will be collecting on the door at the end of the Labour Party’s fundraiser at the White Rock Theatre on Sunday 23rd November.

(d) Masquerade Ball. The group supporting Waterloo is organising a fundraising ball and has kindly invited us to provide display material about the Link’s work in Hastings. Peter Penfold is connected to both groups.

(e) Quiz Night 2015. Although St Paul’s School has been very generous in hosting our quiz night, there are a few problems involving space and parking, so we have looked at other possible venues – so far, unsuccessfully. Jacqui will see if we can get a better deal than has so far been offered at the King’s Church, which certainly has plenty of room and good parking. If that fails, no doubt we will gratefully accept St Paul’s School’s kind offer once again.

(f) Other. Derek reminded us that St Leonards Rotary Club will be organising a fundraising event for us, probably in May 2015, with the proceeds going towards paying for solar panels at the health centre. A friend of Lynn’s has offered us a complete musical quiz. We will be very glad to run such a quiz, perhaps around September. It is hoped that another team of organisers will come forward so that the work does not fall on Nola. Lynn and Richard are also offering to host a BBQ to make up for the fact that we will not be able to host a teacher exchange in May; and Lynn will look into the possibility of a charity ball at the Powdermills Hotel, which runs a ball on behalf of a different charity each year.

6 Treasurer’s Report. Ray presented his report on income and expenditure since the last meeting, together with a sheet of explanatory notes. Not all figures for donations are completely up-to-date, as Charity Checkout only forwards funds at the end of each month. From now on, CC will be collecting gift aid for us on funds that it handles on our behalf. In spite of major outgoings (a final £2700 for the perimeter wall, £800 for repairs to the water-tower and £1500 which more than covers the cost of the new generator), some very generous donations and our fundraising efforts have left both our cash a/c and the ring-fenced Gold a/c in a stronger position than at the end of August.

Roger has written on our behalf to thank Buckswood School and the performers at the gala concert.

7 Schools Report. Our schools are working hard to raise funds for their partners, and on the whole are managing to keep up contacts. Diane Reed reported that St Leonards CofE School is having to concentrate of getting out of special measures, so that the link with SL is on the back burner. Mandy reported on an Ebola assembly at Little Ridge. She is keeping the senior management team up-to-date about the Ebola situation, although there are difficulties maintaining communications contact with Mr Kamara. Sue explained that SL still has a very high profile at St Mary Star-of-the-Sea, helped by the fact that the school has a large number of children of African parentage. There have been sponsored events – swims, silences etc. – and Sue hears from SL teachers almost daily.

8 Health Report.  Christine presented the health working group’s report. (See Appendix C). All the goods sent recently have arrived safely and been unpacked. Sallu is in touch with Christine almost daily. The health centre has had to be closed twice and disinfected. There is now a tent outside the wall to which patients must report to have their temperature checked. Both Ebola treatment centres are already full and there us now talk of schools being taken over as treatment centres – Hastings is considered a hot spot for Ebola. But of course people are still dying of malaria, dysentery etc. The Hastings community health centre is one of the few still functioning. We have received no specific requests from Sallu, but Christine drew attention to 3 questions that have been raised within the group. (a) Should we contribute financially to the work being done by UKSLHP at the Connaught Hospital? (b) Should the health centre become a food distribution point for the needy? (c) Should we be refurbishing outside toilets? Richard suggested that huge amounts of UK and EU money are going to SL, and that since the Connaught will be benefitting from this we should confine ourselves to supporting Hastings itself.

9 Future action . Liz argued forcefully that we should spend all our resources on setting up food distribution points in the schools, since the head-teachers are best place to know which families are in the direst need. Derek has been sent the names of 36 deserving cases, and a list of food prices. David Turner, who has spent 6 years in SL and knows many of the people we know, recommended cash transfers, rather than supplying food, as the most efficient way to get help into the community. He spoke appreciatively of Francis Mason’s work with orphans, and recommended Street Child, an NGO doing excellent work with Ebola orphans. Street Child distributes the necessities, and provides micro-finance to enable families to start to fend for themselves. Liz argued that have raised a great deal of money in our community, and that we must be seen to be getting help to the adults in Hastings immediately. The meeting accepted that we must act swiftly, but there was much debate on what kind of mechanism could be used to distribute money effectively and safely. The meeting accepted Richard’s argument that, however hard it may seem, we must reserve some of our hard earned funds for investing in sustainable projects for the future: we cannot use up all our resources now. The task now is to find a safe mechanism for distributing aid. Various difficulties were discussed: the fact that people cannot move about freely; that there will have to be transparency, traceability and fairness. Various names and organisations were mentioned as people who might be able to oversee distribution of aid.

As the meeting was running very late, it was agreed that the Trustees should be tasked with reviewing all the suggestions made so far, and with approaching a number of people for advice, from Yvonne and Yvette to Dr Samba. Once the Trustees have decided on a workable mechanism, they must define the criteria on which distribution of aid is to be based, and are then to send up to about half of our total funds, but beginning with an experimental tranche of £2-3,000, to see how well the system works. This must happen within as short a time as possible, ideally within a matter of days.

10 AOB. We were reminded that the London Branch will be holding its annual Valentine’s Day dinner-dance on 14th February.

11 Date of Next Meeting. Wednesday 14th January 2015 at 6.05 pm in the Town Hall, Hastings. (TBC)

The meeting closed at 8.30pm.


Robin Gray


Appendix A:

(a) Design for banner


Microsoft Word - HSLFL Title Banner 1d.docx




(b) Design for top of display boards


 Microsoft Word - Document2


Appendix C: Health Working Group report


  1. Christine reported as follows:-

A number of us had attended the UKSLHP Meeting in London on the 4th September and Richard Lane had attended a meeting at the London School of Tropical Medicine which was hosted by Peter Piot who had first researched Ebola in 1976. Christine reported that she had been in regular contact with Sallu since the last meeting. She received an email from him at the beginning of September requesting items to protect his staff working in the Health Centre. It was agreed that we should purchase the items required. We were able to source most of the items, some being donated rather than purchased and on the 19th September, Lynn, Ray and Christine packed, labelled and itemised 55 boxes/parcels which were collect by Rokel the following day for shipment (this being paid for by the London Group).   These arrived in Hastings on the 25th October.   Since then Christine had received a further request for PPE for the Health Centre Staff and it had been agreed that the Link would provide £300 which together with a donation of £300 from the LOAF emergency fund and a further £100 donation should be sent via the usual route to Sallu to purchase the equipment which he had sourced from a Pharmaceutical Company in Sierra Leone.   Sallu has reported the death of doctors and health workers and there is a real sense of fear among staff and it was felt imperative that we did all that we possible could to help them. The Health Centre was closed for five days due to a patient attending with ebola symptoms.   There are now two treatment centres within the Hastings area together with the Chinese hospital in Kossoh Town being used as a testing station and holding area.

2 Derek reported as follows:-

  1. a) The Wall and gates had been constructed but there is still work to be done to complete the project. Sufficient funds have already been sent for this.
  2. b) Solar Power. St. Leonards Rotary were actively engaged in raising funds for a scheme prepared by Alex Robbin.
  3. c) Generator. This is being purchased direct by Nellie Campbell and due for delivery by the 14th November and would have sound insulation.
  4. d) The water pump has been fitted for use if/when electricity is available.
  1. Melanie B reported that Thare Machi Education had produced a DVD on Ebola.                               At Poppy Sinden’s suggestion, Melanie had contacted Nick Russell, who suggested she contact National Charites such as Save the Children to find Krio speakers to assist with the translations.
  1. The sub-committee raised three specific issues
  2. a) Should money be sent to help the work that the Connaught Hospital are doing in conjunction with UKSLHP as we are affiliated to this organisation?
  3. b) Nutrition. There was concern about ebola orphans, and the poor generally and there was a suggestion that the Health Centre could become a food distribution point.
  4. c) The refurbishment of the outside toilets. Should this be funded now.
  1. The date of the next meeting of the sub-committee will be decided in due course.




Ebola Campaign: our Chairman (and others) for the high jump

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014


Here is Richard’s account of their amazing jump to raise funds to fight Ebola in Hastings SL. (If you didn’t get around to sponsoring them, there’s still time!)

Matt, Richard W, Richard H, Hollie & Ellen

Matt, Richard W, Richard H, Hollie & Ellen

Oh no!

Oh no!

Here we go!

Here we go!




Well we finally did it! Fifth time lucky for the five of us (Richard Homewood, Matt and Hollie Lockwood and Richard and Ellen White), but only after a bit of last minute forecast watching and date swapping. Saturday was forecast as a washout so we managed to get a Sunday slot and set off in the wind and rain at 5am not sure if we would jump. As the journey went on the rain stopped and as daylight approached we started to drive into fog! Not looking good especially when just before we arrived we got a text to say don’t come till 11am because it is too foggy! Undaunted we arrived just before 8.00am to see the airfield shrouded in mist and fog. It did seem to be clearing though and confidence was growing. In anticipation of a long wait we ordered breakfast and then just as it arrived at the table we were called to get kitted up! Typical! Breakfast had to go as we were not going to miss the opportunity. We kitted up and after a refresh of what to do we headed for the plane in nervous anticipation. Everyone was laughing and joking and full of confidence as we climbed higher and higher, until the door opened that was! Watching the first two being shuffled to the door and hung out as the camera man swung from the wing the laughter turned to a grimace as it was my turn to be pushed forward. Then that was it we were out but once we stopped rolling the sensation of hurtling to the earth at over 130mph was incredible, the view was unbelievable and shaking hands with the cameraman in free fall was bizarre.

Then after 5,000ft we jerked upward (or actually slowed down rapidly) as the parachute opened and things calmed dramatically and we gently dropped to earth soaking up the view and chatting. Then it was time to prepare for the landing and discussion about leaving legs in holes if we didn’t get it right! A quick rehearsal and then all too suddenly we hit the ground, sliding in gently thankfully onto some pretty soft grass, adrenalin pumping and cheers and shouts as we congratulated each other. An amazing experience and one I would repeat, but more importantly we had overcome our fears for the sake of the charity and the people we want to help in Sierra Leone where they are now suffering the ravages of Ebola directly in addition to their daily struggle. And that is where you come in and we are all extremely grateful for your generosity and support for the cause. We expect that we will have raised over £2,000 in total once it is all collected, but there is still time to donate if you or your friends want to. In case there is any doubt we have all paid for our own jump and all of our other expenses out of our own pockets, so every penny of the money generously donated will go directly to the charity and to the community in Hastings, Sierra Leone, and make a difference.

Thank you once again for your generosity.  Please check on the website at <>  for updates on our work with our friends in our twin town Hastings, Sierra Leone.

Richard Homewood, Richard White, Ellen White, Hollie Lockwood, Matt Lockwood

Fundraising Cheese Fest – whatever next?

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Jo Avery (a work colleague of Roger Reed who is married to Diane, one of our teachers) ran a Cheese Fest last week at the Department for Transport, where they work. Jo writes: “People made cheese scones, straws, brought in all different sorts of cheeses and someone even made homemade cheese! My friend came up with the idea of a “Say Cheese” baby toddler competition, where we brought in photos of ourselves and had to guess each other. We even had colleagues from our London office switch their day to Hastings to be involved.” Apparently they went for a cheese based event as a change from a coffee & cake morning. They raised £167 for our Ebola appeal (and wisely gift-aided it!), which is a great boost. It should pay for 3 sets of protective gear for the Health Centre staff.Scruptious cheesy spread at the DoT

If anyone out there has a good idea like this one and would like to raise some much needed funds for the Link’s work in Hastings Sierra Leone, please don’t hesitate!  It’s clear from all the reports that are coming from journalists and medics in Sierra Leone, that there’s already a huge need not only for medical supplies but also for humanitarian aid to support hungry families and, saddest of all, orphaned children.  We don’t know the exact picture for Hastings, but we need to be ready to give the help that’s needed.

Gala concert raises the roof – and over £2500 for the fight against ebola

Friday, October 31st, 2014

After the amazing concert on 17th October, Richard sent the following notice to the Hastings & St Leonards Observer:

The RoCoCo singers sang African songs

The RoCoCo singers sang African songs

Richard talks to the audience while Sussex Brass have a breather

Richard talks to the audience while Sussex Brass have a breather

Many of our Sierra Leonean friends came down to enjoy the concert

Many of our Sierra Leonean friends came down to enjoy the concert

Sussex Brass, African Drummers and the RoCoCo choir joined forces on Friday evening to lift the roof off of St Mary in the Castle and raise much needed funds to support the Community Health Centre in Hastings Sierra Leone. Nearly two hundred people attended and were treated to a wide variety of music with an African theme, and a fine African-style supper.
Richard Homewood, Chair of the Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link said “This is an amazing result and we have to thank those who attended for their generosity in supporting this event to raise funds for the community in our Twin Town. There was singing, clapping and dancing in the aisles and I think everybody had a wonderful time. The money will help us provide much needed equipment and resources to keep the Community Health Centre going when the focus of the government and other agencies is clearly on trying to tackle the Ebola crisis on a larger scale.
Our thanks must go to Buckswood School who provided the venue free of charge, to our former Chair, Roger Mitchell who organised the event (as well as playing in Sussex Brass), and of course the musicians who all gave amazing performances.”
The Link has a continuing programme of fund raising events, a quiz night and a recent Jumble Sale raised over £1,000 each and a group of Link supporters are due to make a parachute jump (as soon as the weather permits!). Richard said,
“We are continuously looking for new ways to raise funds to help our friends in Sierra Leone at a time when they desperately need it. I am sure nobody can fail to be moved by the tragic events unfolding in West Africa. Having visited Sierra Leone several times in recent years, I know what a difference every penny we raise can make to their lives in difficult times”
You can donate on line at or by post, cheques made out to HSLFL and sent to HSLFL Treasurer, 33 Senlac Way, St Leonards on Sea, TN37 7JG

Telling Hastings UK about the ebola situation

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Our member Nola asked our local hospital if we could have a stand in the hospital foyer for a day, to tell patients, visitors and staff about how ebola is affecting Hastings SL. We had lots of useful conversations, received over £80 in donations, and sold quite a few of this year’s ORANGE QUIZ SHEET.  If you like cryptic crosswords, just send your email address and £1 (a coin, or a cheque made out to HSLFL) to Robin Gray, Oaklands, Rock Lane, Hastings, East Sussex TN35 4NY, and Robin will email you back a copy. You have until mid-January to puzzle it all out. There are money prizes! – But we hope you’ll enjoy the clues, anyway. They’re all about the NHS, medicine and health, very appropriately. Any good at anagrams? How about ‘O horrid shame of these’ (12 letters).

Nola and Tom at the Conquest Hospital

Nola and Tom at the Conquest Hospital

Ebola campaign

Monday, September 15th, 2014
Inside the new ebola treatment centre

Inside the new ebola treatment centre

Security is tight at the new ebola treatment centre

Security is tight at the new ebola treatment centre

The rebuilt water-tower

The rebuilt water-tower


The ebola treatment centre has now been set up in the Police Training Academy on the outskirts of the village, and the UK Government is setting up another one on the Hastings airfield. But ebola has reached the Hastings community itself. Experience elsewhere has shown that health workers are at grave risk, and so are their families.  We need to do EVERYTHING we can to provide Sallu, the Hastings health centre manager, and his amazing team with the best possible chance of coping with the threat. With funding from the Link, the men of the village have rebuilt the water-tower and topped it with a new tank, so that basic hygiene precautions can be kept up.  In addition, we have sent out 55 boxes of disinfectant, soap, rubber gloves, face masks and other preventative measures. But we must keep these first supplies topped up, and the health centre staff really need much better protective gear. Please encourage your friends and neighbours to respond to this urgent appeal. You and they can donate by hitting the Donate button above.

Please rest assured that every penny will be spent directly on protecting the health centre and the people of Hastings SL.



Gala Concert for the Link – Friday October 17th

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Hope everyone enjoyed the concert!  I’ll post some photos when I receive them. A huge thank you to Sussex Brass, Vincent Salzfas and his fellow drummer, and the Robertsbridge Community Choir – and Yvonne and her team for the marvellous buffet, as well as to all those who put up posters, left flyers, sold tickets (thank you, Hastings Information Centre!) and helped on the night.We raised over £2000 for medical supplies for the health centre in Hastings SL. Ray is still counting, so if you have monies from ticket sales to your friends please get it to Ray a.s.a.p.

September 20th: a parachute jump AND a posh jumble sale!

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Our chairman, Richard Homewood, led a little group of crazy Link supporters to make a parachute jump over Salisbury Plain at the end of August. Unfortunately, the weather closed in at the last minute, and they had to postpone the jump. They’ll be trying again on Saturday 20th September. If you haven’t already sponsored these brave people, please do!  See the Charity Checkout link on this website. The money raised will be used to support our schools and health centre projects in Hastings SL.

On the same day, as it happens, we’re have a ‘Posh Jumble Sale’ at Christ Church, London Road, St Leonards – from 10 to 12. If you have any saleable items, let us know ( and we’ll pick them up, or why not bring them along early on the Saturday morning?


Jumble Sale poster

The Big Jump!

The Big Jump!

Latest on the ebola situation

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

As far as we know (20th August), there have not been any cases of ebola in Hastings SL, though Sallu and his team are very worried and are doing their best to be ready, and to educate the public about what they can do. We at the Link will do our best to respond to the situation as it develops. Dr Effi Gooding has sent us the following harrowing account of the situation in the east of the country, written by a Sierra Leonean reporter:

KAILAHUN, SIERRA LEONE—The day shift at the Ebola treatment centre has barely begun when a nurse runs up to Ewenn Chenard to announce the first corpse of the day.
Chenard’s team is responsible for removing bodies from the isolation ward and the nurse stretches out her forearm, showing him the “212” she has written haphazardly on her skin. “C3. Ten years. OK?”
Such numbers and letters have become the language of death at the Médecins Sans Frontières treatment centre in Kailahun district, the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. “212” is the patient’s identification number; “C3” is the tent where Chenard will find the corpse; “ten years” — the patient’s age. Chenard will need a child-sized body bag.
Patient 212’s name is Jimmy and he is the 90th death at this centre since it opened seven weeks ago. He will not be buried today because there are already nine bodies in the morgue — one has been rotting for four days. “That is a problem,” says Sebastian Stein, who works with Chenard. “Not enough burial teams.”
This is the reality of fighting this Ebola outbreak. Too many patients, too many bodies, and not nearly enough money, people, chlorine or even ambulances to stop the dying. Last week, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
There is no great mystery in containing an Ebola outbreak; every flare-up since 1976 has been successfully quelled. But this time, the virus has slithered into a new part of Africa, gaining a foothold in large cities. Now more than 1,800 infections have been reported in four West African countries, including in their capitals; in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, there are at least 11 cases, but a treatment centre has yet to open.
This outbreak has also been a disaster of poverty, emerging in some of the world’s poorest nations.
Forty per cent of the total reported cases in this outbreak have been in Sierra Leone. Among the affected countries, it is the worst off by nearly every development measure, ranking 183 out of 187 on the Human Development Index with more than half its population living below the poverty line.
With the arrival of Ebola, an already weak health system is now buckling. “The system’s already stretched to the limit,” said Dr. Jacob Mufunda, the country’s WHO representative. “(We need) surge capacity. Not for three weeks — six months to one year, from other countries.”
If the world hadn’t noticed Sierra Leone’s struggles before, it certainly does now. Unless Ebola is defeated in the West African villages and cities seeding the outbreak, the virus will continue to be an international threat; it has already brought patients to hospitals in Spain and the United States and caused scares as close to home as Brampton.
Millions have recently been pledged toward fighting the outbreak and reinforcements are beginning to trickle in. But it’s not coming fast enough.
In Kailahun, the district with the highest number of cases in Sierra Leone, the struggle remains lonely and exhausting. The fight has largely fallen to Sierra Leoneans like Daniel James, who volunteers his days burying infected corpses, or Ahmed Lengor, paid $10 per shift to clean vomit and diarrhea teeming with virus.
Everyone is exhausted. The day after Jimmy’s death, 10 more people died at the MSF centre, sending Chenard into the isolation ward five times, even though protocols discourage more than three daily entries to avoid fatigue and mistakes.
Only four ambulances serve this district of roughly 465,000 and one pulls up with five people crammed inside — three are confirmed to have Ebola. If the other two were not already infected, and did not have protection, chances are they probably have the virus now.
And at the treatment centre, the biggest ever built by MSF, they have reached maximum capacity. More than 150 trees had to be cut to make space for what was to be a 50-bed centre. There are now 80 beds.
MSF is refusing to expand. Without additional staff and resources, patients and staff will be put at risk, says Anja Wolz, who has been running MSF’s emergency response in Kailahun. She already served Ebola missions in Guinea and Liberia when MSF asked her to come to Sierra Leone. A few days ago, she finally went home for a much-deserved break but says she expects to spend Christmas in West Africa.
With Ebola, you need to be a step ahead, she says. In Sierra Leone, they have been “two steps behind, four steps behind.”
“It’s frustrating. I’m really frustrated,” she says. “We know what to do but we don’t have the capacity to do it.”
At the MSF centre, everyone’s nightmare is what happened at the Kenema government hospital.
No MSF worker has ever died from Ebola. But in Kenema, five hours from Kailahun along a pothole-infested road, more than 20 hospital workers have died from Ebola since May 25, when the Sierra Leone outbreak was declared. Among them was Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, the country’s top expert on viral hemorrhagic fevers.
Chenard went to Kenema to help identify what went wrong. “It’s the worst place I’ve seen as an Ebola treatment centre,” says the 32-year-old Frenchman, a logistician who specializes in water and sanitation. “Take everything that you want to avoid in a treatment centre — and you are in Kenema.”
There was blood on the walls, starving patients and hygienists using water that was “brown like mud.” Health workers moved from high-risk to low-risk areas without changing clothes; “you never knew who was next to you,” Chenard says. “It could be a patient, suspected or confirmed … it could be hospital personnel.”
He recommended the hospital hire at least 46 more staff to support infection control and sanitation in its isolation ward. When he visited, there were only three.
“They don’t have the means to work properly,” he says. “It’s not like they do not try. They really try their best. But there are not enough numbers and there are not enough skills.”
There are now plans to open an isolation ward outside of Kenema, which the Red Cross will run.
At the MSF centre, built on years of experience, the rules are fastidious. There is no touching, even at the compound where staff stay, and when a visitor briefly leans against a pole, she is quickly admonished not to touch anything.
The personal protective equipment, or PPE, is your lifeline in the isolation ward and it takes 15 to 20 minutes to put on, a slow, precise process that requires a supervising hygienist who checks for gaps, tears and oversights. But when you leave the ward, it becomes your greatest threat if you don’t disrobe properly, ensuring the contaminated suit does not brush against your skin or clothes.
Since nothing leaves isolation, doctors shout their medical notes to a nurse standing on the other side of the fence. “Abdominal pain,” a doctor calls out, as a nurse scribbles. “Needs diapers.” Twice a day, waste from the contaminated area gets burned in a large pit, including the 150 Tyvek suits used daily.
The 92 hygienists — all locals — perform one of the centre’s most gruelling jobs. Among them is Ahmed Lengor, a 46-year-old who since June has walked 20 minutes from his home to the treatment centre where he is paid a daily rate of 42,000 leones, about $10. His days are filled with vomit, stool, blood and bodies — which he must clean then dispose of.
Before he started this job, Lengor enjoyed sitting in the town centre and chatting with friends and neighbours. These days, people whisper when he comes near and move away.
“I just let it go,” he says. “Whatever you think about me, I don’t care. All I know is I’m doing something for my people, to save them.”
In sleepy Kailahun town, life continues; women sell grilled corn roadside; children play in the fields; motorcycles zoom along the dusty roads, sometimes with two or three on a bike.
But all is not normal. Plastic buckets filled with chlorine water are everywhere and the local economy all but stopped after the market and only bank closed. Sierra Leoneans, prone to hugging, handholding and handshaking, keep their distance.
Last Thursday, both Kailahun and Kenema were quarantined by the military — no moving in or out. The next day, there were no admissions at the MSF centre.
“I feel more insecure when there’s zero,” Wolz said at the district health office Saturday morning, where daily Ebola meetings are being held. “Like, going from seven to zero. We need to find out why there are no new admissions.”
These daily meetings are attended every day by some 50 people — NGO workers, government officials, local chiefs — who gather to discuss the latest numbers and problems: villages that initially refused chlorine are now complaining they have none; another patient who has gone into hiding; a new rumour spreading from Nigeria that saltwater washes will ward off Ebola.
They also talk about the contact tracers, who have been charged with the most important job in stemming this outbreak — identifying every person who has contacted a patient and following them for 21 days, the maximum incubation time for the virus.
There are currently 1,264 contacts being traced across the country. In Kailahun, there are 270, currently being traced by 314 volunteers equipped with a day’s worth of training and a cellphone.
But it is obvious that contacts are being missed. There are still new cases, new deaths in the villages.
“Only yesterday, there were three community deaths; today about four to six,” Wolz said last week. “This means we are not following up. It’s not functional at all.”
Alpha Sesay is a volunteer contact tracer with the Red Cross. He is 20, polite and wears a seemingly permanent smile and a T-shirt that says, “Spread the word and not the disease. Kick Ebola out of Sierra Leone.”
Sesay’s job is to follow up on a teenage boy he has been tracking who came to Kailahun after his father died in another village. Sesay walks to the teenager’s home and asks if anyone has seen him today. A boy, maybe 6, shakes his head; the teenager’s mother also shakes her head. Everyone gathered around the home shake their heads.
Sesay has only just received the contact tracing form. He starts to fill it out but scraps it when someone points out he has written the wrong name; he pulls out another one and finally enters the answers from his previous two visits.
Did the teen have nausea or vomiting? Muscle pain? Fever? No to all of these. Sesay could only take the boy’s word. He does not use a thermometer to check for fever.
After 15 minutes, the boy still hasn’t showed. Sesay shrugs and leaves but returns later that evening, catching him this time. Any symptoms? Still no, no, no. The boy has now made it through day nine of being traced by Sesay and has 12 more to go — unless he gets sick or runs away.
Sesay doesn’t get paid for this work, which has exposed him to potential Ebola patients as well as threats from nervous townspeople.
But he won’t quit, even though his brother told him to. “I want to help,” he says brightly, with that wide smile. “So soon we can kick this Ebola virus out of this country.”
A group of glum-looking young men are sweating in a dusty lot near the centre of Kailahun, listening to a stern 20-minute lecture.
“Whatever you do today will reflect on you tomorrow,” says Eric Moosa, the district health superintendent. “If you are a hard worker, it will reflect on you in the future.” The boys stare at him in silence.
“We know it’s a risky job,” says Daniel James, a Red Cross volunteer. “But please, let’s do it from our heart.” More stares, more silence.
These boys are in their late teens and early 20s, dressed in soccer jerseys and dirty flip flops. They are the burial team and theirs is one of the most dangerous jobs in any Ebola outbreak.
Ebola is relentless. Even after it dispatches its victim, the virus will shed from the corpse, making funerals super-spreading events. Mourners often wash, touch or even embrace the bodies of their dead. Two or three weeks ago, two unsafe burials were performed in a nearby village “and then more than 30 to 35 people got infected,” says MSF’s Wolz.
Today’s lecture is in response to last week’s strike by some of the gravediggers. The boys wanted more than the monthly “incentive” of 350,000 leones, or $88, paid by the Ministry of Health. Hardly enough to make such grim and dangerous work appealing. But there are simply no other jobs in Kailahun due to the outbreak.
These boys labour in the heat in full PPEs. Sweat pours out of their boots and glasses when they take them off. The slightest mistake — a slip of the glove, a snag on a nail — could cost their life.
Their days are spent with corpses, some found lying in pools of blood. Sometimes, rigor mortis has seized the bodies and they have to wrestle with stiff limbs to fit them in the body bags.
One man told James he has nightmares of an Ebola corpse chasing him or sitting on his bed. “It was the first dead body he had seen,” James says. “Sometimes I worry when I see them doing the job because I can see they are frightened.”
James’s team heads to a village deep in the bush called Sambalu, where a death has been reported. Another team will take care of the 12 bodies waiting at the MSF morgue.
Like most days, the morning is filled with frustrating delays — the car needs fuel, they need to fetch more PPEs. Jimmy Kapetshi, a doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo who samples suspected Ebola corpses, has yet to arrive.
At 12:30, the team finally hits a road so bumpy and treacherous that two cars wind up in a fender bender. When they reach Sambalu, Manjo Lamin is already there, a health official with the Ebola surveillance team as well as the 46th patient at the MSF centre — he was infected after poking his finger with a needle while taking a specimen.
Lamin has already done a preliminary investigation and says three men have washed the dead body. But he does not think the man died of Ebola — he was more than 100 years old and had not left the village in 20 years.
Moses Msellu, a villager, says there have been no Ebola cases in Sambalu, even though the village is a short paddle across the Mua River to Guinea, where the outbreak originated as early as December of last year.
The team gathers. Should they spend precious time burying the old man the “Ebola way”? Or appease the villagers by allowing a traditional burial?
But in this “era of Ebola,” the question “What if?” lingers. They suit up.
As they walk toward the dead man’s home, the villagers watch in silence, some snapping pictures. The team sprays everything with chlorine from tanks worn on their backs; the dirt floor outside the door, the rickety wooden bench.
In the dead man’s tiny room, goggles immediately fog up from the heat. The mood is tense and James’ voice takes on a hint of urgency. “Spray,” he commands, pointing to the walls. “Spray,” he says, pointing to a bucket. “Spray,” he says, pointing to the dead man, lying in bed beneath a thin blanket.
Kapetshi enters and carefully swabs inside the man’s mouth and nose. He takes a needle — slowly, slowly — and draws unpumped blood from the man’s heart.
The body is wrapped in a white sheet and body bagged — twice. Chlorine is sprayed after every step. They heave the corpse onto a stretcher and lay it on the ground outside so the villagers can gather and pray.
Kapetshi has seen Ebola many times and is not worried. “This is not Ebola,” he says. But even so, his entire body is disinfected before he carefully removes the suit, demanding again and again to be sprayed. His sample tubes are in a plastic bag that is sprayed, bagged again, and sprayed one more time.
The blood tests come back negative but no one feels the day was wasted. For one day, at least, there is one less “what if.”
The latest blood results have been posted: Negative, negative, negative, negative, negative, negative, negative.
A commotion suddenly erupts among the staff at the MSF centre.
“Seven people cured in one day,” nurse Géraldine Bégué exclaims. “I’ve never seen it.”
Everyone is especially excited about patient “65.” Dr. Sameh Kirollos, a 30-year-old doctor from Egypt, recognizes the number immediately — Isata, a 22-month-old girl admitted on the same day Kirollos started working here two months ago.
When Isata first arrived, she was terrified, says Stein, a water and sanitation specialist. She had been confirmed positive and was supposed to stay in the high-risk isolation area, accessible only to workers clad in PPE. But the area is fenced off with only plastic orange mesh — easily escaped by a toddler crawling underneath, which is exactly what Isata did.
“She’s so small and tiny and she can hardly walk, but everyone was freaking out,” Stein says. “It was this terrible situation where they were forming a circle around her, trying to keep her there, while people were very quickly trying to put on their PPE so they could put her back.”
Such is the savagery of Ebola — even a crying toddler becomes a source of terror and cannot be comforted.
MSF staff say babies never survive Ebola but last week, Isata became the youngest patient to be discharged from the centre. Staffers stayed late and came in on their day off to watch her leave. After she was doused in chlorine, she tottered out of the isolation ward and into the open arms of the joyful nurse. Everyone cheered.
But Isata’s struggle is only just beginning. She has survived Ebola but her parents did not. Across the district, workers are looking for other children orphaned or left vulnerable by Ebola; at last count there were 82.
The consequences of this outbreak will ripple for years, says Dr. James Sylvester Squire, Kailahun’s district medical officer. There has been no school or economic activity for months and for survivors like Mamie Lebbie — the country’s first laboratory-confirmed patient and survivor — her illness prevented her from farming and she is only now ploughing her fields, while others are already growing their rice; she worries about where she will get food or money in the coming months.
“The impact is huge,” Squire says. “Even in the next two years you’ll see the effects. People have lost entire families.”
Right now, the outbreak shows no signs of slowing. The staff at the MSF centre were still celebrating Isata and the other six discharges when Wolz received some news that ambulances were on the way.
“Twelve more are coming,” she tells a staffer. He grimaces and sighs deeply, shrugs and gets back to work.
Read more about: Global health


Family BBQ in the woods at Hastings : Saturday 12th July

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

We had a great time in St Helen’s Woods on July 12th. The weather was looking very threatening and we nearly cancelled, but in fact the sun came out at 3 o’clock and everything was perfect. A whole coachload of our SL friends from London & Essex came down, and everyone had a good time. Yvonne brought lovely African food to supplement the traditional BBQ fare. The youngsters enjoyed  face painting, a scavenger hunt in the woods and a lucky dip. A few brave souls actually danced. We raised some £474 for the health centre – perhaps we could have raised more if the event hadn’t clashed with the St Leonards Festival.

A huge thank-you to everyone who donated raffle prizes and helped; and to Bill Orton, who generously donated the home-made sausages, to Sainsbury’s for buns and soft drinks, and to Judith Collins and the Scouts Association for the loan of two field toilets.