Sierra Leone – the second time around

A second deployment to the Port Loko, Sierra Leone, ETC commenced with an early morning flight on 13 December from Heathrow to Brussels and then on to Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone (ETC: Ebola Treatment Centre).  The airport was the usual chaos, with more queues than immigration officials and the luggage belt was a 5-deep mass of humanity.  Eventually we got out and I spotted my driver for the trip to Port Loko, about an hour down the road.  My first impressions on this trip were that there was much more communal activity after dark (previously there had been a 19:00 curfew) and that it got dark very quickly, with very little in terms of artificial lighting.  On arrival in Port Loko base at around 8 pm, I met some of the team still having dinner and got an update on the situation in camp and the ETC laboratory. My first shift would start at 3 pm on Monday afternoon; there are only 7 people in the lab now, previously we had about 15, strangely though, we were getting more samples as other labs had started the decommissioning process.

A late shift on Monday gave me a chance to take a walk down Rotifunk road and then later into Port Loko itself.  I had some books and toys for the kids, which were generously donated by the students on my BMS2035 module at the University of Surrey.  An early wakeup, but a walk was not viable as it was pitch black outside; there are no street lamps and very few houses have electricity. The only people I saw were the two security guards (Sergeant Chernor A. Bundu & Inspector Balla Musa Sawaneh). It started getting light at around 06:30 and I walked down to the river, along the route of our “jungle walk”.  It was very foggy, which is unusual, and it was quiet along the route very little activity.  I did, however, meet a lady (Aysha; picture below) preparing doonots that she would later sell in town for 500 Leone each (about 20 cents). I had one, somewhat like a plain doughnut in taste and quite nice. A few days later I bought ten, which I then distributed at the ETC.

Further down the road I got to a small stream and I decided to turn around.  However, a woman was washing clothes and I asked her about the nearby village, which I had visited previously. We had a little chat and were joined by her husband and sister (Doris D. Yanosaneh, Esatu Yansaneh, Chief Pa Santigie D. Yansaneh; picture below). I had seen the Chief of Rotifunk village on my previous visit when he was planting rice in the stream and he could remember me; he is a subsistence farmer, planting in August and harvesting in February, enhancing his income by teaching in one of the local schools.  Later, while walking into Port Loko met Bangura Morlai Bai, a former farmer growing cassava and rice. I had a pleasant chat with him about Sierra Leone and left a polaroid image with him.  The third image is that of Ibrahim Kamara, who has been one of the local tailors since 1986 and currently employs a total of 12 people, including some teenagers who come after school.  He has two wives, who are street traders in different parts of the town, and 6 children.

Below are some images of Port Loko and some of the amazing people I met in this part of Sierra Leone.



On Tuesday, 15 December, another cohort left GAOL base camp in Port Loko; it was very quiet here compared to my previous deployment, a sign that the Ebola outbreak is now under control with no known infections currently in west Africa – long may this continue. The ETC was being decommissioned and work moving at a rapid pace. On Wednesday, 16 December 2015, we started decommissioning the Port Loko ETC laboratory; this meant deep-cleaning the lab and disinfecting all equipment. The simplest process involves wiping with bleach and the double-bagging with swan necking. An easy enough procedure that does, however, take time when each isolator has a myriad of small items in it (pipettes, tip boxes, bags, tubes etc.). At the other extreme are multiple bleach and wash procedures, including fumigation steps that that could take 2-3 days. We were helped in the laboratory and later during decommissioning by Sierra Leone staff, such as Hassan Bangura (picture below) . Hassan studied for a BSc in Aquaculture and Fisheries, and is currently completing his MSc at Njala University. While doing his MSc, Hassan Bangura worked as a Laboratory Liaison Officer at the PHE Port Loko laboratory where he learned further laboratory skills, such as sample reception, data entry, sample extraction, RNA extraction and the PCR procedure. His dream is to work as a laboratory technician or have his own fish farm (Hassan later joined us in Makeni).



To close, some images from a local “jungle walk” and a visit to River No. 5 beach.



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