December 2014

UCD Radiographers Dispatch Vital Supplies to Sierra Leone

Tue, 9 December 14 18:00

Caption: (Left to Right) Ms Therese Herlihy and Ms Marion Maher at the Magbenth Community Hospital, Makeni, Sierra Leone in 2013.

As recent reports from West Africa confirm, in addition to deaths directly from the virus, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic has decimated large swathes of the healthcare system undoing much of the progress made over recent years.  This is particularly poignantly understood by two UCD radiography lecturers who have previously volunteered in Sierra Leone, a country now reporting the highest number of cases.

In 2013, UCD Diagnostic Imaging lecturers Therese Herlihy and Marion Maher spent three weeks working in Magbenteh Community Hospital on the outskirts of Makeni in Northern Sierra Leone.  They successfully established an X-ray service in the hospital, provided expert training to local staff and had been planning a return trip this summer before the Ebola outbreak put paid to their plans.  Unfortunately the hospital has now been severely impacted by the epidemic and has had to close having lost numerous staff members to the disease. 

Marion and Therese have responded by undertaking an ambitious campaign to raise resources for the Magbenteh Community Hospital and are dispatching two 40-foot containers full of essential medical supplies and equipment valued at over €100,000.  The hospital relies on external funding to operate and was only connected to an intermittent electricity supply in May 2013.

“(Hospital) staff members contacted us for help. We offered to send money but we were told it is at a stage where it is of no use. They said that basic supplies need to be imported to deal with the crisis and everyday medical operations. They also said that diminishing food supplies have now become a growing issue,”

explains Marion, lecturer in radiography at the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science.

“We’ve raised over €14,000 in the last couple of months, which is just enough to cover shipping costs for the containers alone,”

said Therese Herlihy, UCD Diagnostic Imaging lecturer.

“There’s all sorts of things going over: medical equipment, lab supplies, electrical goods, an X-ray machine complete with a fully operational processing unit. On top of that, we’ve got small things like soap, bed linen, books, clothes and protective gear, including 60,000 pairs of gloves.

“The containers themselves will go to good use too. The hospital’s canteen is actually a portable container, and the ones we’re sending over now can be kept for storage or whatever’s needed.”

Companies such as General Electric (which donated the X-ray machine) and Fannin Healthcare (which gave a container full of medical supplies), as well as friends, family and acquaintances who gave generously, were vital contributors to the operation’s success,

Ms Herlihy said.

“A large part of local customs is that they wash the body before burial. You’re trying to make them change their traditions, because they genuinely believe that if they don’t wash the bodies, the deceased won’t pass into the next life. This is what they’ve always done.

“Often they get a basin of water from the well and bring it back. While the first person who washes their hands with it is clean, with the rest of the family there’s cross-contamination,” she said.

“These practices are very difficult to change, but the least we can do is supply them with the equipment to make it easier.”

We offer our congratulations to both radiographers on their fantastic effort and thanks to the many individuals and groups who have contributed to their supply mission.

Further information about the fundraising campaign can be found at aidforsierra leone.org.