The Adventist Development and Relief Agency is participating in the only decontamination program in Sierra Leone that sprays homes and replaces infected mattresses and bedding in an effort to prevent the spread of Ebola.
ADRA said Ebola survivors are at risk of reinfection because many would rather hide their bedding from government decontamination teams than buy it again.
But teams from ADRA and its nongovernmental partner, Plan Sierra Leone, are replacing mattresses and bedding in high-risk neighborhoods on the outskirts of Freetown, the West African nation’s capital.
“Now they are eager to let go of their contaminated materials because they know they are going to be replaced,” said Gabriel Dankyi, Ebola response coordinator for ADRA’s local office. “This has made a significant impact on the population. They continue to express their gratitude.”
ADRA has decontaminated nearly 1,000 homes since November. A number of families live boxed up together in small apartments and houses in the neighborhoods targeted by ADRA.
“This is where many infections come about,” Dankyi said.
People initially resisted relinquishing their mattresses. Several told ADRA decontamination teams they would have had to sleep on the floor if their mattresses were confiscated.
“Initially people were thinking about the costs,” Dankyi said. But, he added, “cost alone is not enough. The impact it has brought is worth emulating.”
The Ebola virus, easily spread through direct contact with body fluids of an infected person, can also be transmitted through contact with infected bedding, clothing, or surfaces. More than 8,600 people, including 3,145 in Sierra Leone, have died since the current outbreak began last year, according to the World Health Organization.
ADRA has 12 five-member teams, each comprised of two disinfectors, two sprayers, and one driver. The disinfectors enter houses, spray walls and surfaces, and remove infected materials. Sprayers wear personal protective equipment and a backpack of chlorine solution to spray themselves with once the job is finished. Infected materials such as mattresses, bedding, blankets, and mosquito nets are carted away to a designated dumpsite run by ADRA staff and British and Sierra Leone military personnel.
The decontamination teams are staffed with university students, recent graduates, and a few high school students.
“So far there hasn’t been any case of infection of any of those involved with the program. They are taking precautions,” Dankyi said.
The Sierra Leone National Ebola Response Center operates a hotline for the ill and relays information to a decontamination center, which mobilizes teams to the homes. If needed, the center can first send an ambulance to pick up the dead or evacuate patients to designated Ebola treatment centers.
ADRA International is the humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and works in more than 130 countries.