"I originally trained as a highway engineer, before joining RedR UK as a member in the 1990’s. I’ve worked on six different responses to Ebola outbreaks, including Uganda in the early 1990’s and more recently as part of the response to the 2015 outbreak in West Africa.
My specialism is in Water and Sanitation, and Infection Prevention Control (IPC) which also includes “bio safety”. I make sure that aid workers wear the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) suits correctly so there’s no chance of getting infection. When the infected person has been in a place I clean the area; I wear a suit and I spray the area with chlorine solution and wipe it all down and make sure that no one else catches the disease. You can catch Ebola from the surface of a table, so things have to be cleaned very carefully and thoroughly.
In DRC, we were working in Itipo and Iboko; two villages in the northwest of the country. Itipo was one of the main centres of the outbreak and we suspected that there might be more cases coming from Iboko as it’s a very remote, rural region and the people there had very little knowledge of the disease and how to stop it spreading.
There was already a health centre in Itipo, but they didn’t have a specialist isolation ward. The initial idea was to hold any suspected infected patients in Itipo and Iboko, for blood testing, then send them on to Bikoro the Ebola Management Centre. But the patients coming to Itipo didn’t want to travel any further, so we had to build a centre in Itipo too.
From an engineering perspective, one of the initial challenges was trying to get building materials into the villages; we were in the middle of the bush and the roads were very muddy and difficult to access. We ended up using helicopters to move materials around! There was also no electricity and no Wi-Fi, so I resorted to drawing rough designs on bits of paper and then sending photographs of my drawings through whenever I had a chance."