FORMER NUN: Anne Carey at the combined
Rotary clubs’ meeting in Rockingham.
 
ANNE Carey found working in an Ebola epidemic preferable to working in the bully ridden WA Health Department.
 
The Irish born nurse —WA’s Australian of the Year, — fled the state in late 2014 to work at an Ebola Treatment Centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone. She felt safer and less stressed there than she had in the Esperance Hospital, she told Rotarians from the Palm Beach, Rockingham, Kwinana, Mandurah and Pinjarra clubs on Monday night.
When she left WA, she believed she might not come back, that she might perish. “Ebola wasn’t an African problem, it was a world problem and therefore it was our problem in other western countries and in Australia,” she said. “I wasn’t necessarily fearful but, when I left Australia, I didn’t think I’d come back.”
 
 
 
Wealthy western countries’ initial response to the epidemic was disastrous, she said. They “needlessly restricted” freedom of exports of health equipment and health care workers to the affected countries. They were spending money on preparations to fight ebola when it arrived. But it would not arrive, and many fewer people would have died,if they first spent money tackling it in the source countries.
The woefully under-resourced World Health Organisation and Médecins Sans Frontières were left to fight the virus with local staff. Many local workers died through lack of appropriate clothing to protect themselves. “Sierra Leone was something of a nightmare,” she said. Its government response was wholly inadequate. “They could only wake up with some help from the world. We had to help the locals, those on the ground.” She taught them how to work safely. In Africa, she worked for the Red Cross. Having received her initial ebola training in Geneva. She left WA in October 2014 and arrived at Kenema, Sierra Leone, in December. “Without PPE (personal protective equipment) the death rate (among health workers) would have been high,” she said. Devastatingly, “of 850 local doctors and nurses,504 died from lack of equipment and antiseptic.” Red Cross teams buried 11,169 bodies. Nine hundred children were orphaned.
On her first day she met a “very sick” 16-year-old from Freetown whose family had been devastated by the Ebola virus. His doctor father had passed the disease onto his family before he died. The doctor’s wife and two sons were at the treatment centre. “I put up IV fluids for him, dressed in PPE and sat with him for 40 minutes. I held his hand and told him to fight, but he died.” The next day his brother died. Amazingly, his mother and grandmother survived. She also told of meeting a woman who had lost six children to the Ebola virus and was about to lose her last. That woman’s baby died in Ann’s arms.
“Ebola takes whoever it pleases,” she said. “Death was stalking West Africa like the plagues of Western Europe in the Middle Ages.” Schools and offices were closed. Christmas celebrations were banned. “Some (infected people) fought so hard but the virus overcome them. People died alone and frightened.”
Survivors can suffer health problems for two years after their recoveries. Constant vigilance is needed. “Virus is present in semen for up to four months after delivery,” she said. “Red Cross is giving 190 condoms to men who have survived and if they need more they will give them more.” The virus is also expressed in breast milk, a major problem in such a poor region. The world needs courage to be kinder,” Anne said.  And individuals also need courage to be kinder. She is using her profile to ask Australians to take on two other major bullies – workplace bullying because we spend so much time at work and it often goes unnoticed and the fear and racism (associated with) refugees. She and her doctor husband had been subjected to huge bullying at the Esperance Hospital. That was why she took leave without pay in October 2014 to help during the Ebola outbreak. She resigned in February last year while still in Sierra Leone,  “giving up” on ever getting an apology and assurances that her career with WA Health wouldn’t be marred by her grievance. An external report into her grievance, which she later got through Freedom of Information, showed her “grievance was found to have substance”. The West African Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 11,300 lives, with more than 28,500 people infected, mainly across Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Liberia is also officially ebola free. A few cases remain in Guinea. Hundreds of thousands of people are recovering from the economic and health impacts of Ebola. The disease caused widespread damage to the health systems because so many hundreds of local doctors and nurses died. Thousands of local Red Cross volunteers are still helping their communities to recover and preventing further outbreaks.