Nurse heads to aid Ebola victims: admits I am scared … to tell my gran!

Rebecca Stretch, CNWL’s Deputy Director Infection Prevention and Control, who lives in Holloway, London, is travelling to Kenema in Sierra Leone tomorrow (Friday 22 August) to help Ebola victims.

Rebecca, who has volunteered in Sierra Leone before, in 2000 during the Civil War, will work with the World Health Organization (WHO) to train people in hospitals on how to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

Ebola is a severe, often fatal, disease. Latest figures estimate that over 1,300 people have died from Ebola in the current outbreak in West Africa. There are no cases in the UK.

In light of these facts, some people might ask why Rebecca is doing this but with a background in infectious and tropical diseases, this is her field of expertise. She will be more than an extra pair of hands – she is a specialist who knows what to do in an outbreak.

Rebecca, originally from Carnforth in Lancashire, said, “I am more worried about telling my family about this trip than the trip itself! They will worry about me. But my main interest is communicable diseases; it’s what I’m trained in. For me, this is the equivalent of training as a footballer and then being ‘called up’ to play in the biggest tournament. I know that will sound odd to people. I can’t really explain it; but it’s what I am trained to do.” 

The humanitarian aspect is the biggest factor in Rebecca’s decision to go: “I think if somebody doesn’t help people there, then who will? We can’t just put a fence up and ignore the problem. It is dangerous but I am not reckless.”

Ebola is transmitted from person-to-person by direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone with the disease. Rebecca knows how to protect herself and others – she knows the steps to take to help prevent infection and limit the disease from spreading.

“I think I will be safe but things can go wrong even if you take the right precautions. Last time I went to Sierra Leone it was one of the most dangerous places on earth and I couldn’t go as far east as Kenema as it was too unsafe. This time is different – it is not a case of people purposefully harming people but a disease and all the suffering that brings.”

Claire Murdoch, Chief Executive, said, “Rebecca is very courageous and a very experienced nurse. I’m proud we have a volunteer to help in the unfolding human tragedy in West Africa and I’m full of admiration for her dedication. She has the skills that will save lives, and the bravery to do it.”

Rebecca, who will be in Sierra Leone for a month, said: “The last thing you’ll feel like when you get home is a hero. It’s a huge problem but you can only deal with a small part of it. You come back feeling bad that you couldn’t do more. I’m really grateful to my colleagues in the Infection Prevention and Control Team for their support and who have made this possible.”