Recognizing the Heroic Nurses of Sierra Leone

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In the reverberation of the Ebola outbreak, a medical apocalypse from which the world is still whirling, some heart-touching stories of valor, selfless service and care for victims emerged straight from the diaries of those who witnessed the action. Healthcare workers, physicians and nurses were the ones Leonean people looked upon as true heroes, however, many are still remaining unknown.

This blog is an excerpt from an article on as-is-basis published recently in NPR, where a reporter Amy Maxmen explores a campaign launched by U.S.-based infectious disease doctor and Ebola-relief volunteer Nahid Bhadelia to raise money for her Sierra Leonean colleagues. It also uncovers Bhadelia’s inspiration for the campaign, highlighting some of the nurses who risked their lives in the midst of a global crisis for nothing in return:

In the darkest hours, bonds formed between Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious disease doctor from Boston University who volunteered to fight Ebola last year, and the West African nurses who cared for patients beside her.Bhadelia’s local partners often went without the pay they were due during the outbreak, and Bhadelia felt a growing urge to support them after she returned to the U.S. last month, (so) she launched a crowd fund site to send her Sierra Leonean colleagues cash.

And here, in its most basic form, is the reason why:

Bhadelia was inspired by their bravery — and they, by her.

The article goes on to describe a particularly tragic afternoon at the Kenema Government Hospital when Bhadelia was hard at work, flanked between two young children who had been infected by Ebola—one dying and the other already dead:

A nurse in the ward, Issa French, gripped her arm, and steadied her. French later recalled, “When I realized what a sacrifice Dr. Nadia had made to come here and help us, I knew that I needed to keep working.”

Clearly moved by French and his colleagues, whose contributions to the relief effort were immeasurable and yet largely unrecognized (much less rewarded), Maxmen sought them out to gain some understanding:

I met French and other Kenema Hospital staff in December, long after Bhadelia had returned home. When some of the health workers told me how they toiled without pay, I spent another month in Sierra Leone—February—trying to figure out why.

Maxmen, who launched a full investigative report to better understand the plight of Sierra Leone’s frontline workers, would come to find that less than 2 percent of the $3.3 billion that came in the form of international aid would be set aside for employees at staff at public hospitals and clinics.Ultimately, Bhadelia’s first round of crowdfunding efforts would come to a total of $4,300, which was distributed among eight of her colleagues in Kenema at $600 per person. The nurses used the money to better the quality of life for their families and, not surprisingly, for others:

French, who has treated more than 420 Ebola patients, used the money to rent a new apartment on a hillside for his family. His former one-room flat was located beside a river that flooded the house in the rainy season.

Meanwhile, Zainab Kanneh, a 24-year-old nurse who had toiled at the hospital during her pregnancy, put the money toward a wedding to celebrate her marriage to the father of her baby boy. Another nurse told me she would give some of her money to the orphaned son of a fellow nurse at the hospital who succumbed to Ebola last year. One nurse bought a dress, shoes, and gifts for her family for Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday at the end of Ramadan.

When asked about her decision to launch her campaign, which can only begin to chisel away at the surface of injustice and misses so many, Bhadelia offered this in response:

“I battled with whether it was the right thing to do,” Bhadalia says. “I can’t guarantee anything about what that money will be used for, and it’s not sustainable. But in the end,” she says, “it came down to the fact that these people are not strangers to me. We raise money for our friends and family here in the U.S. when they need it, so this is the same thing.”


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