EBOLA OUTBREAK:

MEET OUR FIRST RESPONDERS

First Responders are the ordinary people delivering extraordinary action wherever they are in the world. International Medical Corps’ First Responders in Sierra Leone responding to the Ebola outbreak are no exception. Read more about their experiences below.

Ramona Sunderwirth
I’ve always worked to develop local capacity”

Ramona Sunderwirth
Volunteer Doctor and Trainer, Ebola Response

BORN: Casper, Wyoming
HOME: New York City, USA, USA

“I’m a physician, who long ago decided to work in resource-constrained settings with disenfranchised populations,” says Dr. Ramona Sunderwirth, reflecting on the link between her day job as an emergency pediatrician and Director of the Global Health Division of Emergency Medicine at Mount Sinai St. Lukes Hospital in the Bronx and her volunteer work in dangerous and impoverished communities around the world.

Ramona grew up in rural Brazil, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries. She later moved to France for medical school and then New York to study and practice pediatrics and public health.

But since the early 90s she’s been volunteering abroad—delivering medical services in northern Brazil to the Yanomami Indians and Chiapas, Mexico during the Zapatista Revolution of 1994. She worked in post-genocide Rwanda to increase capacity at beleaguered hospitals, assessed the impact of sanctions in the late 90s on child mortality in Iraq, set up medical facilities for Kosovar refugees in Macedonia, and trained health workers in emergency medicine in the Philippines.

“I’ve always worked to develop local capacity, which is what attracted me most to International Medical Corps,” says Ramona. “In addition to treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, my work here centers on training local health care workers in infection prevention and control in an incredibly challenging setting. When this crisis is over, I do believe International Medical Corps will leave behind a group of skilled and talented staff who will strengthen the health system here and improve the country’s ability to respond to future outbreaks. Their contribution is already extraordinary.”

Read more about Dr. Sunderwirth in the news:

New York Magazine: Reasons to Love New York: Because Craig Spencer Is, by No Means, the Only Hero in Town

and

Watershed Post: Doctor with Catskills ties fights Ebola in Sierra Leone

Sarata Silla
People must stay informed”

Sarata Silla
Head Nurse, Ebola Response

BORN: Freetown, Sierra Leone
HOME: Freetown and Aylesbury, UK

“Were now six months into the Ebola crisis and it’s still in full throttle,” says Sarata, a 20-year nursing veteran. “We’re going to need far more manpower, expertise and resources to stem the flow and help many more patients to recover. And people must be kept aware. This virus is still raging here. People must stay informed.”

Sarata spent most of her career as a nurse focusing on in-patient hospital care and community health management in the UK, but then she shifted gears and had just begun working with a maternal health program in Sierra Leone when Ebola emerged and started spreading fast. Her project was suspended and Sarata shifted gears, joining International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team.

Her role as Head Nurse is to recruit, train and coordinate the work of nursing staff at International Medical Corps’ two Ebola Treatment Centers in Lunsar and Makeni.

“Our focus is on infection control and keeping patients safe, hydrated, fed, medicated, clean and in general, well cared for,” says Sarata, noting her commitment to the Ebola response until her country is “out of danger”.

Dr. Jattu Navo
I feel more determined than ever to care for my people,”

Dr. Jattu Navo
Medical Coordinator, Ebola Response

BORN: Dambala, Bo District, Sierra Leone
HOME: Olney, Maryland, USA

Jattu’s first assignment with International Medical Corps was in 1999 as a volunteer assistant doctor at an International Medical Corps-supported hospital in Equatoria, in what was then southern Sudan. Some 10 years later, she joined International Medical Corps’ earthquake response in Haiti as an emergency doctor. Since then, she has spent two and one-half years coordinating International Medical Corps health programs in eastern Chad, and earlier this year, she returned to an independent South Sudan to manage emergency medical services for refugees in Upper Nile.

While in South Sudan, she learned that her “dearest mentor” in Sierra Leone was dying from Ebola, as well as other Sierra Leo- nean health professionals she knew.

“They were doing their best to fight the spread, but didn’t have proper training or gear,” Jattu says. “And every time I heard about another medical worker falling to the virus, I felt the call to go home and help.”

Dr. Navo is now co-managing clinical services and training to work at the organization’s Ebola Treatment Center in Lunsar in Port Loko District, one of the country’s hardest-hit districts.

“I feel more determined than ever to care for my people,” she says. “It’s risky work, but if done right, we will be able to kick Ebola out of Sierra Leone and all of West Africa.”

Idris Fornah
I felt compelled to stay and help”

Idris Fornah
Psychosocial Coordinator, Ebola Response

BORN AND RAISED: Kono and Makeni, Sierra Leone
HOME: Olney, Maryland, USA

Idris was 11 when Sierra Leone’s civil war began and for the next decade, his family was on the move to escape violence, eventually fleeing on foot to Guinea for safety. Idris managed to continue his studies throughout the conflict, and once it was over, traveled to the UK to study accounting.

“I soon realized that I was not meant to be an accountant,” says Idris.

He joined the British Military and it was during a tour with the United Kingdom Medical Group in Iraq in 2007 that his interest in medical work grew—specifically the psychological impact of war on civilians and combatants.

When he returned to the UK, he enrolled in a mental health nursing program, while working in a psychiatric ward of a city hospital, and later earned a Masters in War and Psychiatry.

In May of 2014, Idris traveled to Sierra Leone to run in an annual marathon to raise money for a local charity. While there, the first cases of Ebola were being reported in the country.

“I felt compelled to stay and help,” says Idris. “As mental health practitioner, I knew there would be critical needs to help people deal with the trauma, fear, pain, isolation and stigma associated with Ebola. I was also concerned about people still navigating through post-war trauma becoming re-traumatized by this health crisis.”

Idris joined International Medical Corps as a psychosocial coordinator. He recruits, trains and supervises local counselors helping patients, their families, survivors and impacted communities.

Georgina Grundy-Campbell
I fell in love with this country a long time ago, and keep coming back”

Georgina Grundy-Campbell
Psychosocial Coordinator, Ebola Response

BORN: London
HOME: London

Georgina, a mental health nurse, has worked with vulnerable women in Colombia and Argentina and in psychiatric wards and female prisons in the UK. In 2006, she traveled to Sierra Leone for the first time, to help a local organization in Freetown develop counseling services for women who missed schooling during the civil war. Later, she started her own charity in Sierra Leone that helps at-risk children go to school.

“I fell in love with this country a long time ago, and keep coming back,” she says.

In early 2014, she returned to Sierra Leone to work for an organization that was providing mental health training to nurses and community health workers. But in August, as Ebola was spiraling across the country, her program was suspended. Committed to help, she took a position as an International Medical Corps psychosocial coordinator.

“This is an organization I had dreamed of working for,” she said. “There’s no one else out there that places as great an emphasis on mental health programs in emergencies as International Medical Corps.”

Georgina is now charged with managing programs that respond to the emotional health and well being of patients, families and the effected communities they live in.

“People are panicked and full of fear and grief,” she says. “Our team and those we train will focus on alleviating their distress and suffering and offering comfort and support. For the sick, it gets down to helping them find the strength to eat, drink and take their medication. It’s easy to give up when surrounded by pain and death. Our role is to help them keep going and remind them of all there is to live for.”

Hussien Ibrahim
Sierra Leone is a very important place to me”

Hussien Ibrahim
Emergency Response Director

BORN: Freetown, Sierra Leone
HOME: Manchester, United Kingdom

Hussien Ibrahim has skirted the globe with International Medical Corps—serving as deputy country director in Iraq, launching the organization’s operations for Iraqi refugees in Syria, and heading IMC programs in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Sudan.

Hussein was in Sierra Leone, where he grew up, when the first cases of Ebola were reported in the country. IMC asked him to set up emergency operations and lead its response.

“Sierra Leone is a very important place to me,” says Hussien. “It’s where I went to school and where my childhood friends are. And now the community that is so much a part of me is in crisis. I feel very determined to chip in and do my part to help.”

Hussein says IMC’s two Ebola Treatment Centers here as well as a training center for health workers also being established will “not only be a big step forward in conquering the epidemic” in the country’s Ebola-ravaged north, but will also “relieve the burden on the region’s hospitals and health centers so that they can resume normal clinical services.”

Alex and Jen Tran
It’s exciting to be part of the ground-breaking team here in fighting this outbreak”

Alex Tran
Lead Epidemiologist, Ebola Response

Jen Tran
Emergency Nurse, Ebola Response

BORN: Fairfax, Virginia, USA
HOME: Fairfax, Virginia, USA

“We grew up in a strong values-based home, with Vietnamese refugee parents who struggled themselves after arriving in the US, but really pushed us to pursue our dreams and pay it forward,” says Alex Tran, on how both he and his younger sister, Jen Tran, find themselves in a place like Sierra Leone, joining the effort to stop the spread of Ebola.

“It’s always been great and incredibly humbling to to see how my brother travels and impacts the world,” Jen adds. “It’s fun that we’re now here together.”

Alex, 28, is an epidemiologist and establishes data management systems and oversees data collection and analysis for International Medical Corps’ Ebola response programs in Port Loko and Bombali Districts. Jen, 25, is a neuroscience nurse at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C. and a Navy Reservist, who just completed an eight-month deployment with a surgical team in the Persian Gulf. She joins International Medical Corps’ clinical team as a nurse at the Ebola Treatment Center in Port Loko.

“It’s exciting to be part of the ground-breaking team here in fighting this outbreak, but sobering to know that an estimated 60% of people infected with the virus will die,” says Jen.

Alex said it would have been unthinkable to stand by during one of the foremost health crises of our time: “I’ve never felt more compelled to do something in my life, than help put an end to this epidemic.”