NHS worker Dale Gedge speaks about helping in Sierra Leone

Dale Gedge

Dale Gedge - Credit: Archant

I have witnessed suffering on a level I have never seen as a paramedic. However, this is not my suffering, this is the suffering of those that have died, become orphaned or lost someone – in some cases entire families.

Dale Gedge

Dale Gedge - Credit: Archant

They're not my stories to tell and I don't want to make somebody else's tragedy my own, but I would like to try to explain why NHS volunteers are an important part of the fight against Ebola in West Africa.

When we were deployed to Sierra Leone, I did not expect us to save lives. I fully understood that a lot of the care would be supportive, there is no known cure after all.

We provide Ebola patients with, not only treatment that gives them the best chance of survival, but also basic nursing care.

The 'shedding' stage of the virus predominantly involves profuse diarrhoea and vomiting in patients that are often too weak to lift their head, let alone get to a bathroom – ensuring dignity for these patients is challenging. We also provide support to survivors and education to the districts.

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There is huge stigma attached to the disease with wide reports of survivors being shunned by their families and communities; indeed, many of the national staff are not open with their families as to where they are working for fear of being ostracised.

We ensure a safe burial for those that pass away, with unsafe burial practices in the community posing a real and recognised risk of further transmission.

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Of course, there are many survivors and I would be lying if I said there wasn't personal gratification in seeing one of your patients make it to discharge.

The personal protective equipment (PPE) we wear encompasses an alien-type space suit with only a 2cm letterbox reserved for our eyes.

I had expected to need to explain who I was to the first survivor I met outside the ETC, donning my usual red scrubs as opposed to the PPE.

Saying 'hello' to Abdulai, 21 years old, was enough; he recognised my voice instantly and with a beaming smile thanked me for what I had done.

As an individual I can do very little in the fight against Ebola.

However, as a collective, the support international staff provide to the national staff working at the ETC is crucial. We devise and implement new strategies to run an efficient unit and we mentor staff that are part of a health system that, right now, is broken.

We are working very hard to build sustainability for the national staff to take this fight forward, and if there is any legacy to be left, it will be this.

As NHS workers, we are role models to the incredibly committed national staff and the respect that is shown to you as a UK NHS healthcare worker is humbling.

Without international staff volunteering to deploy to Sierra Leone, there simply would not be the number of ETC beds available for Ebola patients, and isolation beds are key to winning the fight.

As of December 28, we have 896 ETC beds available in Sierra Leone.

To effectively deal with this outbreak, World Health Organisation (WHO) have stated we require double that number.

Since I have been in the country, we have had 1,376 newly reported cases of Ebola.

Every bed that is available in an ETC for an Ebola patient is saving lives, but perhaps not in the way you would first think.

Providing care in isolation ensures that even if that patient sadly dies, others will have survived because of where their care and eventual passing has taken place.

We can provide safe and dignified nursing care that gives that patient every chance of survival and eradicates the risk of transmission to family members that would normally provide that care. With that in mind, perhaps my expectations of what we could achieve have been surpassed, I think we are saving lives and it really feels like we're helping.

Not winning (yet), just helping. And it's nice to help, right?

Have you volunteered for a special cause? Email newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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