I'm back in Freetown, after being away for 18 days. It doesn't seem like I was away for that long, but that's probably because a lot of my time away was spent working. I had Welbodi Partnership Board meetings in London, some time at the UK office, a WHO meeting in Geneva and then a week with my family in the Netherlands, with occasional emails here and there. Despite the need to get work done, at least I was in a different environment for a bit and had some time to catch up on much needed sleep.
On my arrival in Sierra Leone yesterday, I was welcomed by a pleasant warm breeze as I headed to the immigration line. First stop: the hand washing station, then immigrations and then the next stop: the temperature check. 36.2 Celsius. After that it was business as usual: trying to inch my way towards the conveyor belt in the overcrowded baggage hall to try to retrieve my luggage. I think I saw my suitcases circle the belt 3 times before I finally managed to get someone to pass them to me. After being waved through customs I managed to buy a ticket for the water taxi and before I knew it, I was in the bus on my way to the water taxi terminal. Within an hour landing I was on the boat, crossing over to Freetown - talk about record time - and my luggage was in the same boat. It was great to be picked up by a friend and head home to settle in.
I spent most of the day today at work. The hospital was quieter than usual since it's officially a public holiday, so I used the time to catch up with some people. I caught up with some of my colleagues and was introduced to the more recent challenges, and some of the pre-existing ones that are on-going. There is an increase in the number of suspected measles cases yet still a difficulty in getting the surveillance forms filled out and the lab samples taken. There are more children being admitted to the holding unit to rule out Ebola but most of them have non Ebola illnesses such as severe malaria and anaemia and end up dying in the isolation unit because they do not have access to things like oxygen there. Waste management still has issues, with various organizations getting involved, but no right solution as of yet. The generator seems to have a problem but I couldn't find the right person to ask about it. Some hospitals have formed their infection control committees while others have not yet met. One of the hospitals we are supporting has not yet scaled down their holding unit and plans are still unclear. Welcome back, Sandra. I definitely have my work cut out for me over the next few weeks/months with finding solutions to these challenges and carrying out the many other tasks that need to be accomplished. Where there's a will, there's a way.
Honestly, although there is a lot going on and I know I will be very busy, I am very excited about the work ahead. Today I had good conversations with my Welbodi Partnership colleagues, with our new matron at ODCH (children's hospital), with the medical superintendent of PCMH (maternity hospital), with the head of environmental health at PCMH, with colleagues from other NGOs at ODCH and PCMH, and more people. It is encouraging to hear that people are keen to move things forward and improve the hospitals as a whole. With team work, motivated spirits, and a couple of deep breaths, this should be possible.