The Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Sierra Leone is helping to operate a home decontamination program to prevent the spread of Ebola, an initiative that agency officials say is the only one of its kind in the country.
Decontamination teams are spraying homes and replacing infected mattresses and bedding in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Freetown, the West African nation’s capital.
“This is where you have a number of families boxed up together in very small apartments and houses. This is where many infections come about,” said Gabriel Dankyi, Ebola Response Coordinator for ADRA Sierra Leone.
Several residents told the ADRA decontamination teams they would have had to sleep on the floor if their mattresses were confiscated. In some areas, the government has sent a team to confiscate the mattresses without replacing them, Dankyi said.
ADRA officials said many Ebola victims will hide their bedding from decontamination teams to use again, presenting opportunity for reinfection.
“Now they are eager to let go of their contaminated materials because they know they are going to be replaced,” Dankyi said. “This has made a significant impact on the population. They continue to express their gratitude,”
“Initially people were thinking about the costs. Cost alone is not enough. The impact it has brought is worth emulating,” he added.
ADRA Sierra Leone has decontaminated nearly 1,000 homes since November. The agency is running the program in conjunction with the non-governmental organization Plan Sierra Leone.
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 have died from the Ebola virus since the outbreak began last year, including 3,145 in Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.
Twelve teams of five have 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 down the disinfectors once the job is finished. Infected materials such as mattresses, bedding, blankets or mosquito nets are taken to a designated dumpsite run by ADRA staff and British and Sierra Leone military personnel.
Decontamination teams are comprised of 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 sick and relays information to the decontamination center that mobilizes teams to the homes. If needed, the center can first send an ambulance to pick up bodies 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.