Keeping Ebola at bay in Liberia

Keeping Ebola at bay in Liberia

The drive to Tubmanville Health Clinic is a difficult one – even in the dry season when the baking sun has hardened the road underfoot. In the rainy season, the road becomes an oozing river of mud – impassable even with a four by four.

This is when the motorcycle comes into its own.

‘We can go places that cars can not go on these bikes,’ says Anthony Sieh, a Riders for Health motorcycle courier in the Buchanan region of Liberia.

Anthony is one of 80 Riders for Health couriers in Liberia, transporting blood and sputum samples from rural health clinics like Tubmanville to laboratories for testing and diagnosis

They’re testing for Ebola - the virus that swept across West Africa, and claimed over 4,800 lives in Liberia alone. Anthony and his fellow motorcycle couriers are now working hard to keep Ebola at bay.

The Ebola virus is incredibly contagious and has to be contained, fast. The longer it takes to test a patient's bloods, the further the virus can spread. Before Riders for Health began working in Liberia a year ago there simply wasn’t a safe and reliable system for transporting these samples. Testing could take days. Now it takes hours. If staff in a rural clinic have a suspected Ebola case, they simply call a Riders courier who will immediately collect the blood and take it to the laboratory.

‘I love my job because I enjoy saving lives,’ Anthony says. ‘Before Riders it would take 3 or 4 days to get test results, now it takes just one day. Because we transport the samples we cut down the time. I enjoy that life is being saved.’ .

Ruth Flangar is the registrar nurse at Tubmanville Health Clinic and she explains the impact the sample transport couriers are making:

‘We have no fridge in the health centre and no laboratory to check for diseases so it is very important that these samples are transported quickly and safely. The great thing about this service is that samples will always be carried to the lab quickly and safely – they are being protected.’

Riders for Health’s motorcycle couriers now cover the entire country and there’s a well-oiled team of mechanics making sure they stay on the road. In 2015 Riders began building five new workshops around Liberia and have trained 33 mechanics to maintain these courier’s bikes as well as a fleet of over 500 ministry of health vehicles.

Anthony has been trained to do daily maintenance checks on his bike, but every six weeks it will be serviced by a Riders mechanic to ensure it’s in top condition. Instead of taking his bike to the workshop, the mechanic will go to Anthony. Bobby Freeman is the main motorcycle mechanic at Anthony’s nearest workshop in Buchanan:

‘I travel up to 150km to service bikes. Most of the problems with the bike are with the tyres, or spark plugs. It is difficult on the bikes in the rainy season. I will carry all the equipment I need with me on a bike, including tyres, inners and pumps. It makes me happy working in the workshop and doing outreach.’