Ebola: A Team That Keeps The Hope (And The Connectivity) Alive

Six months after the United Nations Security Council declared Ebola a threat to international peace and security, the Emergency Telecommunications (ET) Cluster in Sierra Leone is providing Internet connectivity for 65 medical institutions in the country. That number continues to grow every week.

The ET Cluster team, along with partners NetHope, Ericsson Response, Emergency.lu, SOS Children’s villages and BT, work around the clock to make sure that they do everything in their power to provide the right connectivity tools to medical staff fighting on the front lines of Ebola. 

Witnessing a moment of hope

What motivates them in their work are moments like this Ebola Survivor Release Ceremony at the Port Loko GOAL Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU), which the team witnessed last week while carrying out a network maintenance mission.

During the ceremony, the team of nurses played live music on local instruments. Staff in the treatment unit could not help but join in, and within minutes, all staff were dancing to the beat of xylophones and drums. Even the doctors wearing full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the restricted red zone took a moment to join the celebration. 

All of this was to honor a little girl who survived Ebola and is ready to go back to her village. 

Impact of Internet

At treatment units like this one, Internet is used to send laboratory results that monitor the condition of patients and, like in the case of this little girl, may confirm full recovery from the virus. 

Using the Internet, medical teams throughout the different facilities in Sierra Leone can also request supplies, communicate with management, complete the census of patients and to educate new staff who arrive at the facility.

Dr. Aaron Highfill. (Photo:WFP/Maryna Taran)

Dr. Aaron Highfill, one of the physicians at the Port Loko Government Hospital and Ebola Holding Centre where the ET Cluster is providing services, says “Having Internet makes a world of a difference as the doctors receive at least 30 emails per day with new information, and have a constant need to communicate across the teams in different locations.”

It’s a personal challenge 

"You are close enough to actually look across into the red zone. It’s not far away – it’s very close to Ebola.”

Martin Falebrand from Ericsson Response points out: “It’s a personal challenge rather than a technical challenge to set up equipment in facilities like a treatment unit. It’s a very special feeling to go into an ETU. You smell all the chlorine and you see the doctors working in the red zone. You are close enough to actually look across into the red zone and see the people who are being treated inside the units. It’s not far away – it’s very close to Ebola.”

Despite the difficult conditions, the challenges and the pervasive health risk, it’s words like those from Dr. Highfill, and celebrations for recovering patients like the little girl in Port Loko, that encourage the ET Cluster team and partners to continue working to expand and improve network services across the Ebola affected countries.

In response to the Ebola crisis, the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) is providing Internet connectivity to over 2000 humanitarian workers at 80 locations across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As global lead of the ETC, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been mandated by UNMEER to respond as if the cluster was activated. The ETC is grateful for the ongoing support from partners including BT, emergency.lu, Ericsson Response, NetHope, and SOS Children’s Villages.