What the Ebola Crisis Taught Us About Fighting COVID-19

By Gebeyehu Ayele, Senior Program Advisor

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the devastating Ebola outbreak that hit West Africa—including Liberia and Sierra Leone—from 2014 through 2016. As we respond to the current pandemic, we remember the effective response strategies Living Water International implemented to restrain the spread of Ebola in healthcare facilities and affected communities. Liberia registered 10,678 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases and 4,810 reported deaths, and Sierra Leone recorded 8,704 lab-confirmed cases and 3,589 deaths, including healthcare workers.

During the Ebola epidemic, there were government restrictions on movement in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. Fortunately, Living Water obtained permission and worked hand-in-hand with churches, local governments, UNICEF, and other organizations such as Save The Children to provide WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) services to communities and healthcare facilities.

Our interventions during this emergency response were focused on these strategic areas:

  • Construction of boreholes at Ebola Treatment Centers/Units (ETC/U) and vulnerable communities
  • Construction of standard sanitation facilities equipped with handwashing facilities, laundry shade, bath shelter, and waste management, including an incinerator
  • Ebola messaging through mass media such as radios, flyers, posters
  • Trained church and community leaders on Ebola messages to reach out to the affected communities
  • Distribution of handwashing materials and disinfectants (buckets, sanitizers, soap, detergents, and bleaches, etc.) as part of the infection, prevention, and control (IPC) effort
  • Disinfecting existing water points
  • Disinfecting and decommissioning of Holding and Treatment Centers

Living Water’s staff in Liberia and Sierra Leone contributed to the survival of many and eradication of the disease. We provided access to water, sanitation, and handwashing facilities for six Ebola Care Centers and 30 communities in Liberia, as well as nine Ebola Care Centers and 34 communities in Sierra Leone. We helped reduce infection at the treatment centers by enhancing Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) mechanisms and reduced the spread of the virus inside and outside the WPAs (WASH Program Areas) by sensitizing communities on proper sanitation and hygiene practices.

A Living Water driller in Sierra Leone stands in front of drilling rig.

Here are some of the lessons Living Water learned through our response to the Ebola epidemic:

  • Engaging churches, church leaders, and community leaders are the fastest and most effective ways to pass on health messages to communities during disease outbreaks.
  • Providing WASH services at healthcare facilities is vital to enhance infection, prevention, and control (IPC) effort.
  • At times of movement restrictions, use of mass media such as radios, TVs, flyers, posters, and billboards would be effective methods of communication.
  • Providing hygiene supplies to institutions and vulnerable communities reduces disease transmission.
  • Health messages and the urgency of information delivered by community leaders are trusted, and communities react quickly to adopt prevention methods.

Living Water has a wealth of experience to efficiently and effectively respond to disease outbreaks in vulnerable communities in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. We are uniquely equipped to apply the same level of rigor and devise contextualized interventions and response strategies to other disease outbreaks, such as COVID-19.   

You can learn more about Living Water International’s ongoing response to COVID-19 in thirsty communities here.

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