When I was asked if I would consider deployment to Guinea, I didn't accept quickly. While I was determined to join the Plan Guinea team, I had to think very carefully about it. My work as a procurement and logistics specialist involves direct interaction at the frontline of the response. What would this mean for me in terms of the risk of Ebola? But this is an unprecedented emergency response.
I knew I had to prepare myself much better than my many previous deployments. I quickly realised that there was nothing in my past experiences that I could 'copy and paste' for this deployment.
My preparation also involved something that I have never done before – preparing my family for the worst. I explained the possibility of getting infected and what this could mean. At the same time, I had to assure them that I would take all necessary prevention measures, and promise to come back healthy.
Hand washing and temperature checks
When I first arrived in Conakry, Guinea's capital, it was hard to stay focused on the job. Here, I am constantly disinfecting my hands with sanitising gel or washing my hands with chlorine-mixed water.
I have to avoid shaking people's hands, and check my body temperature using a thermo gun every time I enter the office. And there are lots of other preventive measures that have been put in place by the office here too.
Around the city you can't miss the billboards, posters, banners and other media from the government and major humanitarian agencies conveying messages of Ebola prevention. Unfortunately, I can see on the streets that the messaging hasn't made a big difference.
I'm happily surprised to see how much Plan has prioritised staff care. I was provided with a hygiene and first aid kit as soon as I arrived. An all-staff meeting is held every Friday at the office, providing an update on the situation and on Plan's response work, as well as advice from the in-house health specialist on how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
Distributing food and relief items
Latex gloves, a face mask and rubber boots are a must-wear when we are distributing food or other relief items. Plan's t-shirt is soon becoming a long-sleeve shirt to minimise skin exposure too. These are just some of the new initiatives to better protect our staff on the frontline.
Distribution sites now include hand washing buckets with taps containing chlorine-mixed water. Queues are tightly monitored to avoid skin contact. We'll continue to develop new initiatives like this as long as we are working in the field.
Working on the ground in a crisis that is still developing is beyond anyone's imagination. Unlike a visible safety and security threat, Ebola is untraceable unless a person is infected. How do you fight something that you cannot see, cannot hear, cannot smell, cannot taste and cannot touch?
Keeping in touch with home
Thankfully, communication with my family is not a problem – the office has made sure that I can keep in touch easily. My family ask the same questions about the situation every day, and they are always happy to hear the same answer – that I am well and doing fine.
Nightly video chat during dinner time is a new ritual for us – while they are having dinner in the living room in Woking, UK, I join them from my hotel room. This gives a new meaning to the term dinner date!
I'm already thinking about what will happen when I return. I would like to be quarantined for 21 days in a medical facility, just to be on the safe side. It would be safer for my family at home, safer for my colleagues at the office, and safer for the general public.
So far I have taken all preventive measures and I feel healthy. But this crisis is one step ahead of us all – I can't be too careful.