THE BLOG
12/24/2014 03:05 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2015

Christmas in Sierra Leone: a Long-Overdue Ebola Care Unit for Local Health Workers

Eight months into the outbreak, a dedicated Ebola treatment facility for Sierra Leonean health workers who contract the virus still does not exist. There is a dedicated center for foreign healthcare workers, but Sierra Leonean health workers are not admitted.

Sierra Leone is experiencing roughly 100 new cases of Ebola per day and accounts for half of all the confirmed Ebola cases in West Africa. Many of these cases are from new sources that are not on any contact tracing lists -- meaning they come from areas previously unidentified as Ebola zones. Kono, a 350,000 person district previously thought to have a relatively low case count, is one such hot spot. The discovery of 87 bodies buried there has prompted a government imposed lockdown of the area.

On top of this, doctors and medical personnel in Sierra Leone are continuing to die at high rates. 11 of the 12 Sierra Leonean doctors to contract the virus have died. The most recent, Dr. Victor Willoughby, died last week after contracting the virus from a patient. In July, the virus claimed the life of Dr. Shek Humar Khan, an Ebola specialist and Sierra Leone's only virologist. In total, more than 350 health care workers have passed away from Ebola, severely undermining the capacity to continue the fight against the disease.

TIME's "Person of the Year" is a nice recognition for the Ebola fighters, but the fact that the already thin cadre of health workers has suffered so many losses and nothing has been put in place to help the local caregivers is both discordant and sad.

Two weeks ago, Direct Relief received requests to address the problem. The first came from the Deputy Minister of Health for an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) for the care and treatment of the country's health care workers. Next came an appeal from the Junior Doctors Association of Sierra Leone for the international community to "hastily facilitate the establishment of a specialized treatment centre for health workers in the absence of possible evacuation, as to restore the confidence and morale of doctors to continue the fight."

The appeals were impossible to ignore. Direct Relief shipped two 10-bed medical tents with a combined 1,000 square feet of space for an ETU. The tents just arrived in Freetown today.

As an organization that helps local healthcare professionals care for their own communities, Direct Relief is accustomed to such requests. In Sierra Leone, this includes the provision midwife kits to every graduate of the Makeni School of Midwifery (currently closed due to Ebola) for the past three years. And for the past eight months, we've been supporting an outstanding local group, the Medical Research Center, and the Ministry of Health to equip the 100 bed Ebola Treatment Unit in Hastings, just outside Freetown. This ETU has released more than 300 Ebola survivors since September. At 60 percent, the survival rate at the Hastings facility is among the highest in the region.

With the establishment of a the new treatment facility, the hope is to replicate the success of the Hastings Treatment Center and tip the scales in the favor of Sierra Leonean health care workers who contract Ebola while fighting the virus in their country.