As part of the grant funding from the Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA) to the Playhouse Foundation entitled ‘Support to Border Chiefdoms through the Development of an Efficient Response System for Tackling the Ebola Virus Disease, a memorandum of understanding was concluded with the Republic of Sierra Leone (RSLAF)’s Joint Medical Unit (JMU) for the design and implementation of an Infection Prevention Control (IPC) training programme for border communities especially Youth Border Patrol Teams, health care workers at peripheral health units, Chiefdom Ebola Task Force Members, chiefdom authorities and stakeholders in border chiefdoms in Kailahun and Kono Districts.
The training sessions for Kailahun District were conducted at Kangama, Kissi Teng Chiefdom, Buedu, Kissi Tongi Chiefdom and Pendembu in Upper Bambara Chiefdom from 15-17 January 2015 whilst the training sessions for Kono District took place at Kaminiendor, Mafindor Chiefdom, Koardu, Gbane Kandor Chiefdom and Dukono, Soa Chiefdom from 22-25 January 2015.
Led by Colonel Dr. Foday Sahr, Commanding Officer, RSLAF/JMU with Captain Dr. Baimbar Idriss, Acting Director of the 34 Military Hospital Ebola Treatment Unit as the Lead Trainer, the sessions covered the main facets of infection prevention control including the following: an overview of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), patients’ screening and screening of commuters at border crossings, use of fever thermometers, observation techniques; chlorine mixtures, infection prevention control measures: health and sanitation issues, washing of hands, washing of toilets and procedures for isolation during quarantines to avoid chains of transmission.
The most important aspect of the training was the simulation exercise that was undertaken by the team leaders of all the Youth Border Patrol Teams at all the beneficiary chiefdoms. They were taught the proper techniques for wearing and removing personal protective equipment namely disposable caps, face masks, gloves, googles, aprons, gowns and footwear to avoid infection.
In addition, the participants were taught the process of decontaminating the dead: suspected or confirmed cases with chlorine mixtures as well as isolating corpses until the arrival of the Burial Team which according the communities, took a minimum of two or three days in the more remote parts of the country. Town and Section Chiefs were invited to demonstrate the art of washing of hands at the end of the training sessions. This was one way of encouraging them to lead by example.
The aim of the IPC training was to bring public health issues, especially infection prevention and control and cleanliness to communities that are at high risk, in the event of a surge in the number of new infections or a new outbreak of EVD in the coming months or years. The most heartbreaking testimonies came from communities throughout the chiefdoms who stated that many lives would have been saved had this type of thorough IPC training been provided as from the onset of the outbreak of the EVD. The level of attention during the technical aspect of the training and the active participation of the communities during the simulation exercise were very fulfilling. It is clear that rural communities are willing to take charge of health related issues and the wellbeing of their people, if they are given the opportunity to do so.
In the course of the one day training, the military medical personnel made the communities understand various chains of transmission of EVD. In some circumstances, they observed that is was the use of one single toilet in a community that exposed so many people to infection. In other cases, no chlorine, soap or gloves were available. Even fever thermometers and buckets for storing chlorine mixtures to be used for hand washing were not available at checkpoints at some of these border crossing points. The Playhouse Foundation has established Youth Border Patrol Team comprising a team of six people on day and night shifts at eight crossing points in six of the border chiefdoms that are covered by the current project.
The Playhouse Foundation was represented by Madam Finda Koroma, Co-Founder and Executive Director. She used the opportunity to call on the chiefdom authorities to implement their byelaws and on communities to respect their byelaws and observe all the warnings that Ministry of Health and Sanitation and its partners have put out protecting themselves from infection. She invited the military and police personnel at border crossings to work closely with the Youth Border Patrol Teams to ensure that border crossings are monitored closely and for infection prevention control measures to be observed properly.
Madam Finda Koroma donated heavy duty boots, high visibility jackets, megaphones, motorbikes, generators, stationary and rice as food ration that were purchased with funding from OSIWA. In addition, Madam Finda Koroma donated personal protective equipment made available by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and H.E. Sia Nyama Koroma, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone as well as chlorine buckets and soap that were donated by UNICEF and Oxfam Great Britain. Hand held solar lights donated by the Waka Waka Foundation and GIZ were also distributed.
The Playhouse Foundation has also funded IPC training for communities in Ebola ‘hotspots’ in Kono District including Nimikoro, Nimiyama, Tankoro, Gbense, Mbane and Kamara Chiefdoms and more recently at Kangama, Kono Gorama Chiefdom. Once again the IPC training was conducted by the RSLAF/JMU. Madam Finda Koroma wishes to thank Brigadier General Samuel Omar Williams, Chief of Staff, RSLAF and Colonel Dr. Foday Sahr of 34 Military Hospital for their untiring efforts in ensuing that the RSLAF work tirelessly in support of the efforts of the Government of Sierra Leone, led by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and its partners to bring the Ebola outbreak under control in Sierra Leone. She remains extremely grateful to the military medical team led by Captain Dr. Baimbar Idriss, Staff Sergeant Saidu Turay, a nurse and Private Kandeh Kargbo, Public Health Officer, all of 34 Military Hospital for their professionalism, thoroughness and competence in delivering the IPC training. Most important of all, the Playhouse Foundation owes a debt of gratitude to OSIWA for supporting border communities during this public health emergency.