A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
On 23 March 2014 a case of Ebola was confirmed in Gueckedou prefecture in Guinea, what was to follow was an outbreak of the disease that swept across West Africa, taking more than 11,300 lives mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Guinea, and infecting more than 28,000 people. Liberia was the worst-hit country with more than 4,800 deaths.
Today, the Ebola outbreak is easing—but it is not over. Liberia was declared Ebola free in March 2015, but there are still some new cases in Sierra Leone and Guinea reported every week. We are working with partners and communities to track down cases and prevent new hotspots from emerging. We can not stop fighting the Ebola outbreak until we get to zero cases in West Africa.
Responding to deadly Ebola
Oxfam has reached over 1.4 million people in Ebola affected countries since the start of our response in May 2014. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, we have provided dozens of health centers with water infrastructure, such as tanks and pipes, and medical equipment, including face masks, boots, gloves, chlorine and soap. We have built hundreds of community hand-washing stations and have provided teams that carry out contact tracing and burial of the dead with kits containing masks, overalls, goggles, boots, gloves, chlorine and body bags.
The word ‘ebola’ brings fear, stigma, mistrust and rumors both in affected communities and worldwide. To change this, Oxfam trained hundreds of volunteers that went door to door to change the behaviors that are putting the population at risk and to encourage people to come forward for testing.
Community engagement is now widely recognized as a critical component of responding to Ebola. To this, we have also been working with local communities to get back on their feet; supporting women’s savings groups to restart their businesses, giving cash support to some of the most vulnerable and providing tools, seeds and training to farmers.
The crisis is over, but Ebola could strike again
In Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and Mali, we have been working closely with governments on preparedness and prevention measures - work that has included signs, radio broadcasts, and door-to-door campaigns; installation of hand-washing stations and latrines; and distribution of hygiene kits.
The Ebola-affected countries in West Africa have some of the worst water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure in the world. The recovery process needs to strengthen public health services, including WASH improvements in schools, slum areas and more broadly to make access to clean water and sanitation sustainable in communities.
Post crisis we need to support governments and communities to return to normal while keeping in place measures to protect against Ebola. Economies need to be restarted, jobs and incomes are urgently needed, and health services need to be rebuilt. We will continue working in affected countries for the long-haul.