Sup­port for those strug­gling with Ebola’s af­ter­math is es­sen­tial

Now pa­tients and rel­a­tives need prac­ti­cal, psy­choso­cial and men­tal health sup­port, says Re­becca Horn

The Scotsman - - The Scotman 200 -

In early 2014, the Ebola epi­demic took more than 11,000 lives in West Africa. The coun­tries worst af­fected were Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The med­i­cal re­sponse to the out­break was cov­ered by the world’s me­dia, but only now that the cri­sis is over is the psy­choso­cial im­pact be­gin­ning to be un­der­stood.

Sierra Leone suf­fered from the high­est num­ber of cases, and there has been con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment in the Sierra Leone health care sys­tem. As a re­sult, all health care cen­tres now have clear sys­tems for in­fec­tion preven­tion and con­trol; they all have a cool­ing sys­tem for drugs, which is not a straight­for­ward mat­ter in a coun­try with very lim­ited elec­tric­ity sup­ply and an alert sys­tem is still in place in case of deaths which cause con­cern.

All vis­i­tors to Sierra Leone will no­tice a very ob­vi­ous change. Soap and wa­ter are avail­able out­side hos­pi­tals, small clin­ics, ho­tels and many other public spa­ces, and peo­ple are ex­pected to use them.

In Jan­uary 2015, when Ebola had al­ready done its worst, I was in­volved in pro­vid­ing train­ing and guid­ance for teach­ers on how to of­fer men­tal health sup­port to school pupils. All the schools in the coun­try had been closed since Au­gust 2014, and the teach­ers needed to be pre­pared for when the chil­dren re­turned. Ed­u­caid, the ed­u­ca­tion net­work in Sierra Leone, want-

ed the teach­ers to be able to pro­vide the psy­choso­cial sup­port these chil­dren needed, and to en­sure that any sur­vivors of Ebola were not stig­ma­tised within the school.

I re­turned in spring 2017 af­ter the Ebola out­break was over to work on a project in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Queen Mar­garet Univer­sity and War Trauma Foun­da­tion in the Nether­lands to equip health care work­ers with the skills needed to pro­vide psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port to the pa­tients and rel­a­tives they en­counter ev­ery day.

Although health care work­ers have re­ceived train­ing to im­prove the med­i­cal care they of­fer, gaps re­main in their abil­i­ties to as­sess the psy­choso­cial and men­tal health needs of the peo­ple they treat, who are of­ten in con­sid­er­able dis­tress, and to pro­vide the nec­es­sary sup­port.

We hope that the train­ing we are of­fer­ing and eval­u­at­ing will as­sist health care work­ers as they pro­vide prac­ti­cal and emo­tional sup­port to pa­tients and rel­a­tives who are strug­gling with the af­ter­math of Ebola and life in a coun­try with no safety-net. Our study will also pro­vide much-needed ev­i­dence on the most ef­fec­tive ways to train peo­ple to of­fer psy­choso­cial sup­port, which will con­tribute to more ef­fec­tive re­sponses to emer­gen­cies not only in Sierra Leone but world­wide. ● Dr Re­becca Horn, Re­search Fel­low, In­sti­tute of Global Health and Devel­op­ment, Queen Mar­garet Univer­sity

0 Health care work­ers must deal with the is­sues Ebola left be­hind

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