I like stories when people faced with nearly impossible tasks, quickly learn to adapt surprising everyone and even themselves with their own resilence. A story out of West Africa gives me hope for tough times on a changing planet.
In September of last year the US Centers for Disease Control predicted that by the end of January 2015 the number of ebola patients in Liberia and Sierra Leone could reach almost 1.5 million. Gratefully the CDC was dead wrong.
According to Norimitsu Onishi of the New York Times reports, “By that time only 21,797 were recorded” in those two countries and Guinea resulting in 9,000 deaths.
That is a tragically large number of fatalities, but far less than what was feared. While there are still new cases of ebola being reported, the number of cases “have fallen sharply in the last month, dropping to fewer than 100 in a week at the end of January–a level not seen in the region since June.”
What brought about the stunning turn of events? Was it all of the foreign aid and help that flooded the nations affected by the disease? Yes, in part, but the turn around happened before most of the new treatments centers were built and staff were in place. The resiliency of the local people who quickly adapted to the situation staved of the expected catastrophe.
Dr. David Nabarro, the United Nations special envoy on Ebola said, “Fundamentally this is about the extent to which societies change their behaviors, how they change them and the speed at which they change them.”
What did these changes look like?
With little or no outside help in the early months, the groups educated their communities about Ebola, a disease new to this part of Africa, and collected money to set up hand-washing stations at key spots. They kept records of the sick and the dead. Many also placed household under quarantine and restricted visits by outsiders. As the sick were turned away at the gates of treatment centers because of lack of beds, people inside homes began protecting themselves better, covering their arms in plastic shopping bags as they cared for ailing relatives.
Dr. Mosoka Fallah, a Liberian epidemiologist said, “Heroes emerged in every community. The volunteer task forces may be the biggest reason behind the drop in October.”
Similarly in Sierra Leone, citizens organized their own responses:
Laid-off teachers tracked infections, some villages set up informal isolation centers, and residents in some neighborhoods set up blockade, taking the temperatures of those who entered.
“The cavalry wasn’t coming,” said David Mandu Farley Keli-Comber, the paramount chief from the Mandu chiefdom in Sierra Leone’s east. “We were the cavalry.
He said that the region’s chiefs enlisted the traditional leaders in the area and put together bylaws that barred residents from hiding their sick, interfering with health workers or carrying out traditional burials that increased the risk of spreading the disease by touching infected corpses.
This is what we have seen over and over on small scales with families in the midst of a crisis and on large scales when whole nations and continents are rocked by war, disease, and natural catastrophes. Yes, people still suffer, but they can also figure out ways to survive, to thrive, and to remain human.
See the entire article: As Ebola Ebbs in Africa Focus Turns from Death to Life