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Monday, 15 December 2014 11:50

Melbourne Cluny Sister in Ebola afflicted Sierra Leone

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Sr Ann Stevens sjc150From Pascoe Vale to Freetown, Sr/Dr Ann Stevens sjc is coordinating the relief efforts of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny in Sierra Leone.

A graduate of St Aloysius College, North Melbourne, and the Medical School at Melbourne University, Sr Ann has been Provincial Leader of the Cluny Sisters in Sierra Leone, Gambia and Ghana for the past eight years.

“With regards to the Ebola,” writes Sr Ann, “we have not turned the corner yet. Each day's statistics show more new cases than the previous day - and those are the cases that actually make it to the statistics. It is very difficult to reconcile the anecdotal reports we hear from various parts of the country with the officially published statistics".

Sr Ann points out that it is not only the people suffering from the disease who are affected. “We want to provide some assistance to those staff in our schools we have had to terminate because of the Ebola situation here. The teachers are OK because they are on Government payroll, but cleaners, watchmen, pre-school assistants are all paid by the schools. And, of course, they are pretty poorly paid anyway, so there is no such thing as fall-back savings. As the schools are closed indefinitely nothing is coming in. We managed up until now, but with the coffers empty, they have to go.”

“The clinic in Loreto is still functioning - but practising "no touch" medicine. Treating people based on history & visual appearance only is not what anyone was taught, but is a necessity in these circumstances. Many health facilities have closed completely, so people are dying of treatable, non-Ebola illnesses. Loreto has received a shipment of basic protective gear which enables staff to run an outpatient section on the no touch basis. They are in no way set up to give treatment for people with Ebola.”

The sisters all wish to stay, so each community has met to determine necessary protocols - determine isolation procedures in a community if anyone develops fever, referral procedures for anyone whose fever does not respond to malaria (still the most common reason for a fever) treatment within a defined period, etc.

Two of the Cluny communities are in areas which are "locked down" - Makeni and Moyamba. People can move within the isolated areas, but not outside those boundaries. Makeni is on the main route to many other areas of the country. The highway remains open, but vehicles without passes may not stop until they are through Makeni.

With time, more needs will become obvious, as orphaned children and others who have lost their livelihood will be without the necessities for living.

Melbourne Overseas Mission, a humanitarian organisation founded in 1968 by Cardinal James Knox to provide assistance to developing countries as an outreach of the Catholic Church community in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, has sent $10,000 to Sr Ann for humanitarian relief.

Melbourne Overseas Mission, Cardinal Knox Centre,
PO Box 146, East Melbourne 8002

This article by Sr Josephine O'Kelly sjc was first published in Kairos Catholic Journal (Vol 25 Issue 2), the official journal of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.