Sierra Leone

Helping people fight contagious dieseases

Sierra Leone made headlines during the Ebola outbreak but people there still face other serious infectious diseases every day.

Only 60 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water. This exposes people to waterborne disease including diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid.

The country is also vulnerable to natural disasters and a mudslide in 2017 affected over 11,000 people.

Helping people fight disease

With support from the British Red Cross, the Sierra Leone Red Cross has run a community-based health programme for more than two decades. Education about how to stay healthy is at its heart.

We now work across the country to:

  • reduce the risk of disease outbreaks
  • prepare communities to respond to health emergencies
  • raise awareness about health care before and after women give birth
  • improve access to clean water and toilets
  • strengthen the Sierra Leone Red Cross.

The programme also helps communities recover and move on from Ebola.

Toilets can save lives

A lack of hygienic toilets is a big problem in Sierra Leone. Many people also don’t know about the need to wash their hands after using a toilet.

Our project is building pit latrines (toilets) for families in 50 villages. People who live there will provide local materials, dig the pits and help build the latrines. The Red Cross will do the rest of the work.

After studying which kind of latrine would work best, the Red Cross decided on a low-cost design that would cover a family of seven’s needs. It should last for three years.

Sierra Leone Red Cross staff and volunteers around the country gave their feedback to make sure the design would work in their areas.

We will now build one model latrine in each district to get direct feedback from the people who will use them. This will allow us to change the design slightly as needed before all the others are built.

Supporting local people to manage their health

We work alongside local people so they have the skills and knowledge to manage their own health care.

Trained volunteers teach their neighbours how to prevent and treat diseases. Simple but crucial information, such as washing hands, can be vital in preventing the spread of disease.

Red Cross volunteers carry out home visits on a monthly basis to share information on good health practice and to make people aware of local health care facilities.

Community meetings help to raise awareness of health issues and treatments. Health campaigns ensure children are immunised against diseases such as polio and measles.

Different ways to learn about health

Less than half of Sierra Leone’s people – just 48 per cent – can read and write. So the health programme uses different styles of learning, such as pictures, drama and quiz competitions.

Women are usually responsible for their families’ wellbeing, so it is important they know how to prevent, recognise and treat diseases.

Mothers’ clubs offer support on issues such as how women can stay health during pregnancy and birth. This is particularly important as Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest maternal and infant mortality rates.

Fathers’ clubs encourage men to take part in community health care. They might prepare land for gardening, for example, or keep roads clear from hazards such as stagnant water where mosquitoes breed.

Keeping infectious diseases in check

We also focus on making sure that the Ebola outbreak – or any other disease outbreak – will not be repeated.

Efforts to stop Ebola showed how vital it is for communities to work together to overcome health emergencies. Trained Red Cross volunteers now monitor community gatherings to spot any signs of disease among the people there.

They act as an early warning system and can point people towards further medical treatment if needed. The volunteers also trace people who may have come into contact with an infected person to prevent further cases.

Help after the huge mudslide

When a mudslide in August 2017 swept away hillside towns in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, 500 people were killed and 600 are still missing.

With 1,250 homes destroyed and 7,000 damaged, the mudslide affected over 11,800 people.

The Red Cross helped immediately with first aid, and search and rescue services to find survivors.

We also provided water purification tablets and hygiene kits with essentials such as soap.

Cash grants to 750 families helped them buy what they needed after losing so much. This could be food, clothes, other essentials, or they could pay the rent or health care bills. Many of the families were headed by orphans or had vulnerable members, such as older people or people with disabilities.

We are now also helping people in five communities take steps to reduce their risk from future disasters.

Getting back to normal after Ebola

People in Sierra Leone are starting to rebuild their lives following the deadly Ebola outbreak. The disease claimed nearly 4,000 lives and has had a huge impact on communities.

Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola in November 2015, but its impact will be felt for many years to come.

Some people are still wary of Ebola survivors, who may then not be accepted by their neighbours.  We are educating communities to ensure that survivors and their families can resume their lives without facing stigma.

Safe burials saved lives

New research suggests that courageous Red Cross volunteers who carried out safe burials for people who died of Ebola could have prevented thousands of new cases.