Australia Awards Scholarship propelled Liberian Alumna to the forefront of the national Ebola response

In July 2014, Neima Nora Candy, a Technical Assistant at the Ministry of Health in Liberia, was appointed as the National Ebola Coordinator at the Liberian Red Cross – leading a team of 100 staff members and 2,850 volunteers and managing a US$25 million response budget. “Liberia had few healthcare workers with my expertise, so I was highly needed in the fight [against Ebola] at that time,” says Neima.

The newly acquired skills and knowledge she gained through a Masters of Public Health, completed at the University of Newcastle in 2013, thrust her into this leadership position. “Some of the courses I did, like Global Health, Global Health Policies, and Introduction to Quality and Safety in Health, gave me an edge over other healthcare personnel.”

At the time Neima joined the Liberian Red Cross, there was very little information about Ebola, which was alarming for her and other healthcare workers. “International flights were shutting down their services to Liberia; there were mass movements of people with money and foreign visas out of Liberia.”

In spite of the tense situation, Neima coordinated social mobilisation, contact tracing, psychosocial support, infection prevention and control through community-based protection, and safe and dignified burials of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) fatalities.

Neima also had to draw on the soft skills she had learned while on-Award, such as negotiation and community engagement. These skills were especially put to the test when it came to safely dealing with the bodies of Ebola victims – without infecting health workers or the 150 burial volunteers on her team. Communities were generally resistant to having Ebola bodies buried in their vicinity – blaming burials for the spread of the disease – and even resorted to rioting, causing a backlog in burials. The Liberian Red Cross successfully held meetings with government officials and community leaders to discuss how and where they could dispose of the bodies safely. Despite the challenges faced, due to Neima’s extensive training on protective gear, no Liberian Red Cross volunteer or staff member contracted Ebola.

Apart from technical knowledge Awardees gain through their scholarships, an important aspect of the Australia Awards program is to equip Alumni with the ability to make significant contributions to their home countries as leaders.  Neima says she relied on these lessons from her experience in Australia to get through her tasks. “I was fresh from school in Australia and was well equipped with my MPH and I also learned that it is good to believe in yourself and the work you do, which was my greatest asset.”

Neima received the 2015 Alumni Award for National Leadership by The University of Newcastle in recognition of her role in the fight against Ebola in Liberia.

Image caption: Liberian Red Cross (Neima Candy in pink shirt) and IFRC health workers at the launch of the Red Cross’s Community-based Protection Program in Kollies Town, Montserrado County. The program aimed to help contain the spread of Ebola in isolated communities across Liberia by training people in those communities to safely deliver basic care until the patient could be transferred to an Ebola Treatment Centre. Credit: Victor Laken/IFRC

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