By Maria Corena McLeod, PhD
WSAID interview 10-01-2014 5:00 PM.
With Jzohn Alexander Nyahn Jr
Executive Director CHESS-Liberia
MSc. Development Finance
Nimba County, Liberia
As of October 1, 2014, the worst epidemic of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has claimed the lives of at least 3,286 people. Dissemination started in Guinea in December 2013 and it spread quickly to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. In the United States, an initial case has been confirmed and another one suspected as of October 1, 2014.
In Liberia the estimated cases were reported as 3,696 and the number of deaths as 1,998 as of September 28th, 2014.
EVD has left hundreds of orphan children in a country with little infrastructure to support them. These children not only have to deal with the loss of their parents but also with the stigma of being a possible EVD carrier.
WSAID interviewed Jzohn Alexander Nyahn Jr. Executive Director of Community Health Education and Social Services (CHESS) in an effort to understand the problematic in Nimba County, North Central Liberia, with aims to provide assistance. CHESS-Liberia is specialized in preventive Health Services and Human Resource Development.
Maria Corena McLeod, PhD (WSAID): “Thank You for helping WSAID explain to those outside of Nimba County the problematic caused by Ebola virus infection. Here are my questions. I am not a reporter but I would like to understand better how Ebola Virus is spreading in your County and what we (WSAID and others) can do to help you fight the infection, educate the community and help the children that have been orphaned by this disease.”
1. WSAID: How was Community Health Education and Social Services-Liberia started?
Jzohn: The Community Health Education and Social Services (CHESS-Liberia) is an award winning local NGO founded in 2002, by seven health workers headed by the late Jzohn Alexander Nyahn,Sr(1st Executive Officer) and Madam Lios Dolo (current board member). CHESS was accredited by the government of Liberia on February 16, 2004 as a local non-governmental, non-religious and non- profitable humanitarian organization. CHESS-Liberia headquarters are located in the Humanitarian city of Saclepea (birthplace), Nimba County, Northern Liberia, Republic of Liberia.
CHESS-Liberia works to enhance the economic potency of families at the community levels through engaging in preventive health services and human resource development aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and all forms of marginalization. CHESS-Liberia was founded during the heat of the Liberian civil war by a group of war affected health workers (Humanitarians) who devoted themselves by risking their lives to carrying out voluntary health services in Liberia’s second populated (468,000) and civil war most affected county of Nimba.
Since CHESS’ accreditation, this NGO has extensively worked with international and national donors, including the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare (MOH/SW)/Nimba County Health Team (NCHT) at the community levels. In partnership with these philanthropist groups, CHESS had been involved in training and delivery in preventive health services, empowering less privileged community members advantageously in HIV/AIDs Prevention Care and Control; Reproductive Health Services; Hygiene promotion, Malaria Control; and Livelihood supports to People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). CHESS had partnered with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), The Mentor Initiative/UNICEF, ECHO, ADRA, and MOH/SW/Nimba County Health System (NCHS), National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) and National AIDs Control Program (NACP).
CHESS is managed by a Board of Directors, Executive Officer/Director, Program Officer, Finance Officer, Training and Advocacy Officer followed by contractual project staff.
2. WSAID: Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved in CHESS?
Jzohn: I am a Liberian, I am 28 years old and my whole working experience has been with CHESS. It all started back in 2010 when I was recruited as a young volunteer from college to work on a UNHCR funded livelihood project for Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone refugees and Liberian Returnees. I was then promoted to program officer. A year later CHESS sponsored my Master’s program to study Development Finance with the agreement to serve the organization for 3 yrs. I am very proud to do this as CHESS had made me who I am today.
3. WSAID: What is the name the city where you work?
Jzohn: We work in Ganta, Saclepea, Bahn, Karnplay Cities including number of village in North Central Liberia bordering Guinea.
4. WSAID: How many Ebola cases have you seen in the area?
Jzohn: More than 100 confirmed cases. The stats change on a daily basis. Yet to read today’s stats.
5. WSAID: How did the outbreak start in Nimba County?
Jzohn: The Epidemic started in Nimba County in mid July 2014, when a trans County trader visited Lofa County for business. He contacted the virus there, returned to Ganta (5KM from Guinea) for business, felt sick and was admitted at a local clinic called power house clinic for Malaria, diarrhea, and sore throat. He left against medical advice. Next day a local banker took her 12yr old daughter for medical admission, they slept and the kid mother decided to sleep on the next bed where the trader was earlier on admitted. Days after, the child’s mother felt sick, friends and relatives visited and there were physical contacts.
She died after been catered to by a traditional herbalist as they believed she was poisoned or the victim of witchcraft. Everybody died including the herbalist and a pastor and the virus continues to spread due to denial and cultural practices as well as limited previous Ebola prevention knowledge and poor health infrastructure. The deceased mother was earlier on married to my uncle. No one in Liberia will say they don’t know anyone who has died of Ebola (The Devil, Merciless Killer).
6. WSAID: Has anybody from your family died of Ebola?
Jzohn: No one has died from my immediate family, only external and college friends that were nurses and doctors.
7. WSAID: Are you afraid of being infected?
Jzohn: Yes I am extremely afraid. Wouldn’t anyone be? I lost my dormitory room mate today. He was a medical doctor. It is now normal here. Today we lost two friends from our graduating class (a doctor and a nurse).
8. WSAID: What are the cultural practices that are preventing medical personnel and government from stopping the spreading of the disease in Nimba County?
Jzohn: Cultural practices include bathing of dead bodies, funeral services, kissing; sharing GB together (GB is a type of locally made food from pounded cassava and shallow within soup). We appreciate eating together with our bare hands. There is also the myth that Ebola is the creation of the government to generate money from the UN and others.
9. WSAID: Based on your experience, do you think Ebola is only transmissible via contact with blood?
Jzohn: Strongly disagree. Physical contact with sick or dead Ebola positive patient’s body, urine, tears, vomit, and even clothes can transmit it but it includes blood too.
10. WSAID: Based on your experience, do you think that Ebola patients who show not symptoms are not contagious?
Jzohn: Yes, once you are not sick and down you remain harmless except through physical contacts with the infected patient’s urine, toilet, blood and sweat.
11. WSAID: Is Ebola virus more dangerous when the patient dies?
Jzohn: Yes, it becomes extremely dangerous when you are dead, by this time it has overcome the body and now it is finding its means to get into another host.
12. WSAID: What is the population in your area and is there any medical personnel available to help you?
Jzohn: I can’t tell you the total number of families and medical personnel. Here in Liberia, accessing such statistics is challenging as sources are rarely available. What I can honestly tell you is the Nimba County (my region) is the second most populated (468,088) county in Liberia and one of Liberia’s bread basket counties.
13. WSAID: What are your most pressing needs?
Jzohn: We need household cleaning supplies. We also need psychosocial services for the children that have become orphans as their parents have died of Ebola virus infection.
14. WSAID: What specific supplies do you need?
Jzohn: Soap, disinfectant, bleach, disinfecting wipes, personal protective equipment (PPEs), Arpon, Chloride and Chlorine.
15. WSAID: How many children do you have in need of psychological services and what are the age ranges?
Jzohn: In Nimba County where we work, there are 13 children in the range of 9-19 orphaned.The number is expected to increase as cases and death increase.
16. WSAID: Are there other organizations working with you and in the area?
Jzohn: We just completed a “Keep safe, Keep Serving” training workshop conducted by WHO and Liberia Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOH/SW). We were the only Community based NGO invited from our region. Established national task force spearheads Ebola response in Liberia under the chairmanship of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. WHO continues to provide technical support to government in needy areas. CDC colleagues arrived to assist government curb Ebola. UNICEF and other are involved in the response.
17. WSAID: What is the government doing in your community?
Jzohn: At The Ebola Treatment Unit and hospitals most people die in communities due to limited admission beds. The government is trying but its capacity is not allowing it to do more and therefore the international partners are strongly encouraged to assist.
18. WSAID: How can the average citizen in other countries outside of Liberia and Africa help your community?
Jzohn: Donations and coming here to help remedy the situation. We need water and sanitation, Personal Protective Equiment (PPE)s for medical staff, hygiene kits, livelihood support and fighting the stigma and discrimination for individuals affected by Ebola.
For more information about how to help CHESS, visit the WSAID Facebook page and send a message
For more information about CHESS-Liberia, visit their Facebook page
World Solutions against Infectious Diseases (WSAID) is dedicated to implement self-sustainable solutions to control infectious disease transmission globally. WSAID works with interdisciplinary group.
Maria Corena McLeod, PhD is the founder of WSAID.
Dr. McLeod translated this interview to English for publication here. To see the Spanish language version, click HERE