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IOM Ebola Response: Training Expands across Sierra Leone from Academy in Freetown

By International Office of Migration (IOM)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, March 17, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- IOM, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health, the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and Makerere University in Uganda, has trained more than 4,500 frontline health care workers (HCWs) at the National Ebola Training Academy in Freetown since December 1, IOM's team in the country reported this week.

Since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak in March 2014, over 8,400 people have been infected and more than 3,200 have perished in Sierra Leone.

IOM's Training Coordinator and project lead, Jasmine Riley, said that “After three months it continues to be a privilege to lead this highly committed and multifaceted team – devoted to making Ebola a part of Sierra Leone's past.”

Week to week IOM's team of 30 staff train roughly 300 national and international HCWs including doctors, nurses, hygienists, lab technicians, swab takers, ambulance drivers, burial workers and decontamination teams on basic Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) working in both frontline and regular care facilities.

Curriculum provided by WHO features three-day modules on donning and doffing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), proper hand washing techniques, how to mix chlorine solution, spill clean-up, lectures on identifying and dealing with Ebola infections, and small group tutorials.

A two-day practical component is also provided in an onsite mock Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) that takes health care workers through various scenarios in each stage of the ETU. Trainee and registered nurse, Gladys Kamara said, “IOM's training has improved my understanding of Ebola and I'm already changing the way I work in the hospital.”

Ten Ebola survivors are on staff as expert patient demonstrators to add realism to the practical training. The survivors also share their experiences with the deadly disease during a “Survivor's Panel.” Fonti Kargbo, survivor, said that “Despite the pain and the stigma we face, it is our duty to use our experience to help the trainees here defeat Ebola.”

Following a significant decrease in the number of new Ebola cases across Sierra Leone from 320 per week at the beginning of January to only 80 per week one month later, the need for large centralized trainings in Freetown was drawn into question.

As a result, rapid response 4-6 person IPC mobile training teams comprising Training Academy staff from Freetown are being deployed to the districts following requests from the Ministry of Health.

With a slight rise in cases through February, the demand for mobile trainings is expanding swiftly. To date over 220 HCWs have been trained in Kambia, Bombali, Bo, Port Loko and Western Area.

Dr. Michael Laggah, a Sierra Leonean who works at the Academy in Freetown and more recently as a mobile trainer in Bombali said, “The beauty of mobile training is that you take a person with 5 percent knowledge of Ebola, someone who has never been to school, and by the end of the course they have a much more developed understanding of the disease. Mobile training is responsible for changing people's perceptions and protecting the most vulnerable.”

More training sessions are scheduled in the coming weeks for 125 foreign doctors from UNOPS, 80 health care workers at Masanga Hospital in Tonkolili, 27 hygienists at Lungi International Airport and 200 prison guards in four districts over fears that Sierra Leone's crowded prison facilities could fall victim to Ebola.

To cover demand three teams will be deployed simultaneously and the number of staff dedicated to mobile training increased. Dr. Desmond Maada Kangbai, an IOM trainer who recently trained airport personnel, emphasized “the importance of Infection Prevention and Control training in the districts where outbreaks of Ebola and other diseases are most likely to occur. It is essential that all health care professionals have the same level of training to deal with possible outbreaks now and in the future.”

IOM's district level mobile trainings are making a significant impact on health care worker safety and ensuring that the chain of transmission is broken in Sierra Leone.