Responding to Ebola Crisis Affecting Potential Movement of Populations is Our Concern

Carmela Godeau, IOM’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa and Mohammed Abdiker, Director of the Department of Operations and Emergencies paid a two-day visit to Liberia to fully appreciate IOM’s Ebola response efforts within the country. © IOM/Sandra Tumwesigye 2015

Agnès Matha interviews Carmela Godeau, IOM’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa

Why is IOM involved in the Ebola crisis?

IOM responds to crises affecting movement or potential movement of populations and the 2014 Ebola epidemic, the largest in history according to the CDC, is affecting multiple closely linked countries in West Africa.  The extensive movement of people within and across the borders of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has facilitated the rapid spread of the infection across and within the three countries.  The homogeneous ethnic population that lives along the border areas has common socio-cultural activities that enhance viral transmission, e.g., visiting sick relatives or attending to burial ceremonies of relatives across the border. In addition, the cross border movements have complicated tracking and follow up of contacts. The tradition that people should be buried where they were born has been a driver of cross border movements and transmission of the disease.

Is IOM responding to Ebola crisis regionally?

IOM is responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa by assisting the Governments of the affected countries in their lead responses to the crisis in cooperation with UN partners and donors. IOM’s engagement has marked a significant stepping up of the international response since the start of its operations in mid-September 2014. With operations in the three countries most affected by the outbreak, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and in the neighboring countries Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, IOM is the fourth most funded agency in the field.

Our activities ranged from the set up and management of three Ebola Treatment Centers in Liberia (Tubmanburg, Buchanan and Sinje) to the management of the National Ebola Training Academy in Freetown for frontline practitioners working in or deployed to Ebola Treatment Centers. IOM’s Health and Humanitarian Border Management project monitoring the Exit and Entry Health Screening (EEHS) at Lungi International Airport or the establishment of Ebola Flow Monitoring Points at border location between Mali and Guinea, the rehabilitation of 20 prefectural centers of Ebola Coordination in Guinea and social mobilization activities in several locations to quote some of the initiatives ongoing.

As the we advance in the fight against Ebola, IOM has already started looking together with its international and regional partners and the donor community at the post-Ebola transition planning  and early recovery phase strengthening the capacity building support to local authorities in all three affected countries and neighboring countries with health border management, flow monitoring points, WASH and infrastructure rehabilitation, health system strengthening and cross border social mobilization in partnership with the Mano River Union. Through its Border Health Strategic Framework on EVD in West Africa, IOM aims to aid in the development of country or multi-country strategies and initiatives that will contribute to reducing the risk of cross-border EVD transmission in West Africa.

During your visit to the three affected countries in January did you meet people whose involvement are particularly significant in the response to the Ebola crisis?

The visit to the three Ebola-hit countries in January was a tremendous experience from a professional and personal point of view. I was very impressed in particular during the visit to the National Training Academy in Freetown and to the ETUs in Tubmanburg and Sinje by the work all the colleagues are doing, with an impressive number of foreign health workers and with the local population. In particular, I was touched by the testimony of a Sierra Leonean medical doctor,an  IOM trainer at the Academy, who had come back to his country to fight against Ebola along with his people and with the citizens of many other countries from around the world. He said: “The solidarity shown by people of so many countries is an awesome thing and we will forever appreciate. We have been putting our efforts in everything that we can do as Sierra Leoneans but without your support we would be in the desert or the wilderness...”