UNFPA’s Contact Tracers Save Lives

A 25 year-old woman Hassanatu Kanu contracted the deadly Ebola Viral Disease in Mabora village, Port Loko District, Sierra Leone. Port Loko District is in the Northern province and is 120 km north of the capital, Freetown. Port Loko has a population of 550,000 people and is largely consists of the Temne ethnic tribe.

In August 2014 Hassanatu’s mother died of Ebola in another village and she attended the funeral. As a contact of a positive Ebola case, Hassanatu was immediately line listed by Chiefdom Supervisor Hassan Kamara even before she returned to her village. When Hassanatu returned to Mabora village UNFPA trained Contact Tracer, Abass Kargbo, was assigned to monitor her for a period of 21 days. Two days later, Hassanatu informed Abass that she felt pain in her joints. Immediately, Mr. Kamara informed the District Health Management Team (DHMT) and her blood specimen was taken and tested. The result was positive and she was taken to the Ebola Isolation Unit at the Kenema Government Hospital on the 10th of August, 2014.

During her hospitalisation, Hassanatu stated that her blood specimen was tested four times. Her diet consisted of soup and water. When asked how her morale was, she stated that there was a nurse name Tenneh who saw her daily. Hassanatu said that Nurse Tenneh would come in and say to her, “Jog for me.” She said that the nurse would make her laugh and lift her spirits. She looked forward to those visits from Nurse Tenneh and wanted to thank her for that invaluable kindness.

On the 2nd of September, 2014, Hassantu was discharged from the Kenema Government Hospital. She was given discharge Ebola counseling and she returned to Mabora village and resides with her grandmother.

In her community, the residents have labeled her a witch and they believe that she possesses unnatural powers. Hassanatu Kanu contracted Ebola Virus Disease. Hassanatu survived the deadly disease. Hassanatu did not die and her community believes that anyone who contracts the deadly disease will surely die. When asked why she did not die, Hassanatu responded, “Early detection and treatment is why I did not die and my Mom did.”

25 year-old Ebola Survivor, Hassanatu Kanu
25 year-old Ebola Survivor, Hassanatu Kanu

Contact Tracing

To contain the disease, the Government, with support from UNFPA and other partners, has been implementing responses at the community level.

UNFPA and the Government have initiated ‘contact tracing’– a method of tracking contacts, or people linked to confirmed or probable Ebola cases – in Kailahun District. Kailahun is the epicentre of the country’s outbreak and the most affect district.

By tracing contacts and monitoring their health, public health officials can track the movement of the outbreak. This also helps ensure early detection of infections and immediate treatment, and will hopefully stem the spread of the virus.

The model has been adopted and is being used in other districts by UNFPA and the Government.

Door to door

UNFPA and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, have trained over 2000 Community Health Workers (CHWs) to serve as Contact Tracers.

The tracers  go door-to-door to learn about people who might be affected, then follow up with each possible contact. Those exhibiting symptoms of Ebola, which include fever, diarrhoea and vomiting, are closely monitored.

The health workers are also trained to protect themselves from the virus.

The collected data is sent to the District Surveillance Officer and the Government-managed District Ebola Task Force.

The contact tracers are equipped with mobile phones provided through a partnership between UNFPA and the phone companies Africell and Airtel. Each company donated 150 phones that enable health workers to capture and store information in a database. The information is then relayed to the health ministry.

The mobile phone company Skytel also provided 30 mobile phones for contact tracing and surveillance.

Identifying infections

Cases that show signs of Ebola are brought by ambulance teams to a centre where blood samples are collected for laboratory confirmation. Lab-confirmed cases are referred to case management centres in Kailahun and Kenema.

Deaths linked to Ebola are transported for safe burial within 24 hours.