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And then there was the day in late spring that changed everything, the day a woman, a stranger, came to the home of Cecilia Babyoh, a nurse in the eastern Sierra Leone district of Kailahun.
The woman was sick, and she was referred to Cecilia. Cecilia treated her, there in her home, and then took her to a community health center. There was no talk of Ebola then; rumors and myths about the deadly virus were still to come. So Cecilia didn’t think, not at first, that her life might be in danger from doing her job.
“Then she got a fever,” says her younger sister, Baindu Saidu, a community health nurse herself. “By then she knew it was Ebola. She took herself to the hospital in Kenema. A few weeks later she died there in the isolation unit.”
Cecilia was one of the earlier of more than 140 confirmed Ebola deaths in Sierra Leone as an unprecedented outbreak that began in Guinea in February has now swept through three countries. Médecins Sans Frontières said this week that the outbreak is “out of control.”
Baindu Saidu is currently supervising and training traditional birth attendants in Bo District as part of an innovative of Concern Worldwide project called Essential Newborn Care Corps, implemented in partnership with Health Poverty Action.
She is a strong and determined educator of the health workers who is very serious but also very unserious. She is quick to laugh and will sometimes begin dancing during a break. She has retained that capacity for joy since losing her sister, but that tragedy has also made her more determined.
“I tell people I am an example,” she says. “My sister died. Now I want to work harder to fight Ebola.” Because of that, she expanded her work with the health workers to move beyond training them to help new mothers and their babies to include training them about Ebola, and about how to protect themselves.
At first the health workers she trains didn’t believe the disease was real. Now they are convinced, and they are taking precautions. For Baindu, this is a win.
But there is more she’d like to see. In Bo, Sierra Leone’s second-largest city, Concern has distributed protective equipment to health workers, such as gloves and aprons. Additional supplies are needed, but Baindu is happy Concern has begun the effort. She knows if her sister ha protective equipment to wear, she might not have contracted the virus. “She had nothing,” Baindu says. “And then she died.”