Sam Lauder (fifth from right) with a group of trainees

Tales from the front line: fighting Ebola in DR Congo

For one month a year, Powys EHP Sam Lauder is on call as a hygiene promoter with the British Red Cross.
04 April 2019 , EHN magazine

Image: Sam Lauder (fifth from right) with a group of trainees

For one month a year, Powys EHP Sam Lauder is on call as a hygiene promoter with the British Red Cross. Last June, his skills were in demand to help with the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo. This is his story:

"It started with an email from the British Red Cross looking for infection control delegates to go to DR Congo. I registered my interest and within 10 days I got a call asking me to come to London straight away. It wasn’t the first time I’d been deployed, but this time I was leaving my wife and my six-month-old son. I was perhaps a bit more anxious than in the past because I had that going on.

"I spent two days going to briefings at the Red Cross headquarters, and going back and forth to the Congolese embassy asking where my visa was. As soon as I had the visa it was a case of “right, you’re on this flight” and I went straight to Heathrow.

"It was a 10-hour flight to Nairobi, a nine-hour delay and then a three-hour flight to Kinshasa. Entering DR Congo was a tense experience because security is very high there. Language-wise, I failed at the first hurdle – I speak some French, but I was out of practice and I just couldn’t get the words out. However, I know a bit of Swahili and the person behind the desk happened to speak that. Between broken French, Swahili and a bit of English, I got in.

"I had a day of Red Cross briefings in Kinshasa and the following morning I was sent on a UN flight to Mbandaka, a province right on the equator. Mbandaka has been at the centre of the Ebola outbreak and I was set to work in a team protecting hospitals and health centres. Other colleagues were making sure Ebola cases were triaged out to specialist centres; my job was to put together a training package for the hospital and clinic cleaners to protect these places from infection. These staff members are often overlooked in the system and aren’t given adequate training, but they are key to infection control. They were really on board with the training, which we delivered with a volunteer doctor who spoke the local language, Lingala.

"I was away for a month. After a debrief in London and a few days at home I was back at work. All that distress and poverty I’d seen was only a couple of flights away. It makes you realise that the world isn’t that big a place."

Sam Lauder is a senior chartered EHP at Powys County Council. He was the winner of the Outstanding Environmental Health Professional award at the 2018 CIEH Excellence Awards. Entry for the 2019 awards opens on 8 April.

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