Harpenden woman brings water and sanitation to Ebola-stricken Liberia

Cathy with the Liberia WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene team) in Monrovia

Cathy with the Liberia WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene team) in Monrovia - Credit: Archant

Working in a country stricken by the Ebola virus had enabled Cathy Stephen to recount firsthand experience of the deadly disease that has killed thousands.

Cathy, 32, of Harpenden, works as a water and sanitation advisor in Liberia, one of the West African countries affected by the virus.

On her Christmas break home after working for two years in the country, Cathy spoke of the devastation experienced by the communities she works with.

She said: “Since the outbreak of Ebola earlier this year, the poorest and most vulnerable communities that I work with have been devastated by the virus.

“Dead bodies lay in the streets of the capital Monrovia and hospitals and clinics shut down, as they simply couldn’t cope.


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“This also had a knock-on effect which meant that pregnant women were giving birth without any support and children suffering from malaria couldn’t get treatment.”

While Cathy was excited to return to her hometown of Harpenden for a break, there were some downsides.

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She said: “Despite the fact the virus is not airborne and can’t be passed on through ordinary social contact, my friends were nervous to see me over the Christmas period or actually refused to meet up.”

The Ebola virus has killed more than 6,800 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

The prevention programme is starting to have an impact, with a reduction in the number of cases, but there is still a long way to go,

Cathy works with six charities in the country who work together on water, sanitation and hygiene, with only a third of the four million population having access to safe water, and 80 per cent of rural communities living without access to a toilet.

Cathy added: “The impact Ebola has had on the country goes beyond the immediate health emergency.

“Schools have shut down, so children are missing their education and trade has been affected too, with many people now out of work and this has particularly affected women.”

If you would like to donate to the cause, you can do so by visiting www.oxfam.org.uk

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