Liberia: Channelling hope – how psychosocial support breaks boundaries between families and Ebola patients

January 2015

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has produced increasing circles of victims beyond the infected and the dead. Survivors, families, children, and health workers are dealing with the stress and trauma left behind by the disease. Read how a psychosocial worker supports Ebola patients, and serves as a liaison between Ebola patients and their families and communities.

Dash, a psychosocial worker, saying goodbye to one of his patients who was discharged from Island Clinic, Ebola treatment unit, Monrovia
WHO/P. Desloovere

“Health workers have done, and continue to do, long shifts attending to too many patients while witnessing their colleagues’ deaths and working under a lot of fear and stress,” says Florence Baingana, mental health specialist for WHO Liberia.

Psychosocial support at the Island Clinic Ebola Treatment Unit

Reaching Bushrod Island in Monrovia, I get to meet E. Dash Karbar Sr, a psychosocial worker working in Island Clinic Ebola Treatment Unit. Dash is one of the 57 mental health clinicians trained by WHO and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare on how to support their fellow healthcare worker colleagues, how to support Ebola patients, and how to serve as a liaison between Ebola patients and their families and communities. “Since day one I have been working at Island Clinic”, says Dash. “We all had the anxiety of going out there making sure to save lives,” he continues.

Giving hope to Ebola patients and their families

One of the patients Dash remembers very well is Tony, who spent a total of 8 days in the Ebola Treatment unit. “I had fever and I wasn’t really eating, so I lost a lot of weight. I went to the hospital and was weak,” tells Tony. Presenting typical Ebola symptoms, the hospital could not keep Tony and he was transferred to Island Clinic for better care and treatment.

Tony’s mum was very anxious and terrified to see what was happening to her son. “It is not a good experience inside, it keeps your stomach bubbling, you don’t want to eat, knowing that your child is between the line of life and death,” she says. The day after Tony was admitted, Tony’s mum met with Dash, the psychosocial worker at Island Clinic.

“Dash has been amazing, he was like the telephone between me and Tony,” she continues. “Even when Dash was not on shift, he would put on his personal protective equipment, check on Tony and look after him. Dash was really concerned, he really helped us, and he encouraged us. He gave us hope.”

Sometimes a patient only needs to be talked to

While in Island Clinic, Tony underwent a number of blood tests, but the results came back negative for Ebola. He was ultimately diagnosed with typhoid and malaria.

“I think they are doing a very good job down there,” says Tony’s mum. “Like Tony said, ‘he had his medicine on time, his food on time, in fact he had extra food…,” she continues. “If we could have hospitals equipped like that. The face and words from someone’s mouth help a lot. Sometimes a patient only needs to be talked to, only needs to be smiled at, to be encouraged. It heals,” she concludes.

Audio interviews