Give a hand...The US-Sierra Leone Healthcare Coalition needs You

Dr. Ibrahim Diallo
There has been a lot of news coverage lately about Ebola in Sierra Leone. By all accounts, it’s an ugly situation—transmission rates rising, aid appearing too little, too late, airlines canceling flights, countries suspending visa applications, Sierra Leoneans facing stigma, and overall economic loss for the country. And that’s not even taking into account the after-effects on thousands of children who are now orphans.

  "While we have been away from home, our hearts are with our families, friends and neighbors we would like to help during this difficult moment," says Dr. Ibrahim Diallo, chairman of the US-Sierra Leone Healthcare Coalition. "They expect us, their diaspora, to stand up and tell their stories."

          The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa has dramatically raised awareness of the global burden of infectious disease and raised questions about the preparedness of public health systems.

 The Ebola epidemic has shed light on well-known deficiencies in Sierra Leone's health care system, which no single body or organization can solve, says Dr. Marion Koso-Thomas, who serves as an executive board adviser for policy and planning with the new healthcare coalition taskforce.

 "The goal of the taskforce is to engage as many partners as is feasible in an effort to provide a much needed coordinated effort to address the health care needs and health system issues that our country faces," Koso-Thomas explains.

          "Clearly, [it’s] an opportunity for the diaspora to act, leverage their immense experience, know-how and capabilities to help in meaningful ways, resolve the epidemic that is ravaging towns and villages by engaging and coordinating diaspora efforts," Diallo says.      

        To do that, the new organization, with the help of the Sierra Leone Embassy and Ambassador Bockari Stevens in Washington D.C., has reached out to health workers in the diaspora. 

     “The diverse expertise in the current board and the linkages formed daily, enforce the potential the task force has to be a convener of health professionals willing and able to contribute meaningfully to the Ebola fight,” Koso-Thomas says.

The US-Sierra Leone Healthcare Coalition is already making roadways with Partners in Health, a global health organization committed to improving the health of poor and marginalized people, and Britain’s Department for International Development (Dfid), which leads the UK's work to end extreme poverty.

Dr. Ibrahim Kamara
There have also been similar calls within the United States to Health and Human Services, which protects the health of all Americans and provides essential human services, especially for those least able to help themselves, and the United States Agency for International Development, which provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States.

Dr. Ibrahim Kamara, an epidemiolgist with the US Health and Human Services Department, also serves on the new coalition's board. He is responsible for international operations and special projects.

Dr. Kamara says the US-Sierra Leone Healthcare Coalition will be engaged in different initiatives, including a community forum or focus group with Health and Human Services and the White House.

The aim is "to reach out to diaspora organizations to learn about their Ebola Virus Disease messages, what their memberships are struggling to accomplish in the Ebola fight, their organization's activities and role in supporting their memberships, families and friends at home to understand and teach how the disease is contracted, and better understand problems and issues that exacerbate the current Ebola crisis," Dr. Kamara says.

The coalition is looking to engage business/commerce groups, faith-based organizations, African student associations in American and European colleges and universities, healthcare providers, diaspora African fora, and civic organizations.

"We'll collaborate and engage with other diaspora health care professionals to improve their understanding of the disease life-cycle, their roles in supporting and educating`their community, and focus groups on diaspora women and families to address family concerns," Kamara says.

     According to World Health Organization estimates, there have been 5,000 deaths in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — where the outbreak first emerged 10 months ago.

Dr. Marion Koso-Thomas
      In October, President Ernest Bai Koroma appointed his defense minister Alfred Palo Conteh as chief executive officer of the National Ebola Response Center (NERC), whose headquarters is at the former War Crimes Tribunal for Sierra Leone in the west end of Freetown together with the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

     The US-Sierra Leone Healthcare Coalition Taskforce has also reached out to NERC and plan to utilize associations with the medical professionals in Sierra Leone to promote their goals, vision and implementation strategy.

            “As it is, the United States has a significant amount of Sierra Leonean diaspora healthcare providers that willing and committed for deployment with the relevant subject matter expertise," Dr. Diallo explains.

"They have technical competencies, social, cultural, and language competencies that gives them the added advantage of being able to rapidly deploy and hit the ground running (without the need for interpreters/translators and also be an incredible resource for training their local counterparts.

              “Like no other group, the diaspora comprises of natives who maintain close ties with the country. Often they own businesses, properties and have close cultural and political ties. Therefore, the task force will be a relevant conduit to reach out to the members of the diaspora to organize, screen, recruit, and hire potential candidates with the relevant and substantive expertise to fill skilled professional healthcare provider gaps in the respective countries where they can function readily with much more effectiveness and sensitivity to the culture and traditions of the people,” Diallo says.
The US-Sierra Leone Healthcare Coalition will tap Sierra Leonean-born doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in North America and Europe.


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