IFRC President visits Sierra Leone

IFRC President pays tribute to Red Cross volunteers fighting Ebola; calls for more investment in strengthening community resilience
Freetown, 6 February 2016 – The President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Mr Tadateru Konoé, has completed a visit to Sierra Leone where he met the Minister of State One in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr Gibril Sesay, executive members of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, and Red Cross volunteers who were so instrumental in bringing the Ebola outbreak to its knees.
During his first visit to Sierra Leone, the IFRC President paid tribute to the volunteers and staff of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society for their remarkable and critical role in getting to zero cases through the provision of safe and dignified burials, contact tracing, psychosocial support, surveillance and social mobilization, and treatment.
“I cannot emphasize enough the role of Sierra Leone Red Cross Society staff and volunteers who provided approximately 50 per cent of all safe and dignified burials across the country. There is no doubt their heroic actions helped prevent further deaths,” said Konoé.
For the IFRC President, the two confirmed Ebola cases in January after Ebola was declared over in the country last November, “is a reminder that we must remain vigilant by enhancing community-based surveillance and investing more in community resilience and early warning and response mechanisms,” added Konoé.
Visiting Sand Sand communities in Western area, the IFRC President urged the Government to consider the role Red Cross volunteers can play in strengthening community resilience and in helping their communities sustain that resilience as they prepare for future challenges. “Trained volunteers have gained experience and skills which can be used in not only responding to many different disease outbreaks, but in also acting as early warning systems. That is why I encourage the Government to integrate some of these heroic workers into the rebuilding of community-based health systems.”
Further, when public health emergencies threaten and do cross international borders, such as Ebola over the past two years, and now the Zika virus in the Americas, “it is vital that we share the lessons learned during these emergencies to ensure the knowledge gained through responses is not lost,” added President Konoé.
As part of its recovery operations, the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, with the support of the IFRC, is training thousands of people across the country through its Community Event-Based Surveillance programme. Once trained, these people can be the eyes and ears at the community level, alerting the proper authorities when others exhibit symptoms of disease, thereby potentially stopping an outbreak before it starts.
“The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is built on volunteerism,” said the President. “Day in and day out, they go quietly about their business, not seeking fame or wealth. They do so simply because they want to ease the suffering of their brothers and sisters. It is this spirit of volunteerism, which will help Sierra Leone recover from the Ebola outbreak.”
The Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, with the support of the IFRC, has been on the frontlines of the Ebola response since the virus first surfaced in 2014. Recovery operations are expected to last through 2017.