The President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Mr Tadateru Konoé, has ended his first visit to Ebola-affected countries with a commitment from the Government of Guinea to integrate trained Red Cross volunteers into recovery efforts, and a promise from the Government of Sierra Leone to consider doing the same.
“More than 5,000 Red Cross volunteers in Guinea and Sierra Leone were trained during the Ebola response, many of them in infection, prevention and control,” said President Konoé. “They gained valuable experience and skills which can be used in not only responding to various disease outbreaks, but in also acting as early warning systems. I strongly believe that these volunteers can, and should, play a key role in the rebuilding of community-based health systems.”
While in Guinea, the IFRC President advocated on integrating trained Red Cross volunteers into Ebola recovery efforts when he met with several government officials including Head of State, His Excellency, President Alpha Condé, and Minister of Health, Mr Abdouraman Diallo. “We are very familiar with seeing the Red Cross as being the first to respond,” said Mr Diallo. “You have our support to ensure trained volunteers do not get lost in their communities but are used to help build resiliency.” In Sierra Leone, President Konoé discussed similar opportunities with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, His Excellency, Dr Samura M.W. Kamara.
“Ebola taught us the importance of investing in community-based surveillance, and early warning and response mechanisms so diseases are identified before they become full blown epidemics,” added Konoé. “But we need to go further. When public health emergencies threaten and do cross international borders, such as Ebola, and now the Zika virus in the Americas, it is vital that we share these experiences and knowledge to ensure more effective and efficient responses.”
As part of their recovery operations, the Red Cross Society of Guinea and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, with the support of the IFRC, are working with trained volunteers to teach additional community members how to conduct surveillance and identify symptoms of disease when they first surface. By alerting authorities and allowing the implementation of rapid response systems, an outbreak can potentially be stopped before it starts.
“I cannot emphasize enough the key role of Red Cross volunteers in the fight against Ebola, particularly in the provision of safe and dignified burials,” said President Konoé. “The outbreak would not be over in Guinea, and down to minimal cases in Sierra Leone, if not for their heroic actions. Engaging these trained volunteers in strengthening community resilience is a logical next step as these countries begin to recover from this deadly outbreak.”
The IFRC President made it a priority to meet with both volunteers and community members during his visit. In Guinea, a boisterous crowd of hundreds of volunteers dressed in white greeted President Konoé as he arrived in Kobaya to inaugurate a new first aid training centre. In Sierra Leone, he travelled to Waterloo, an Ebola-affected community just outside the capital Freetown where he met a young Ebola survivor, toured a village for a first hand look at disaster risk reduction efforts they have implemented, and later met with volunteers at the Western Area branch where he was made an honourary member.