Women with child on her back

I am public health: Amy Simpson

The meeting under the mango tree in Sierra Leone

We asked Master of Global Health graduate, Amy Simpson, to tell us about her most memorable career moment. She recalls it as ‘the meeting under the mango tree in Sierra Leone'.

public health graduate amy simpson

The outbreak began slowly and silently, gradually building up to an epidemic that was unprecedented in both scale and duration.

By March 2016, when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an end to the Public Health Emergency, there had been 14124 confirmed, probable and suspected cases, and 3956 deaths reported in Sierra Leone –  one of the three worst-affected countries.

“I was standing in the new maternity wing of Tonkolili District Hospital surrounded by hundreds of boxes of gloves, masks, gowns, boots, and other personal protective equipment. I was getting frequent notifications from several primary health units (PHUs) around the district, saying they had run out of equipment.

Despite it being another organisations responsibility to procure and distribute equipment, it became clear that my project of educating healthcare workers about how to protect themselves from Ebola would suffer a major setback – the workers in all 103 PHUs in the district now had the knowledge but not always the means.

I called a meeting the week before Easter 2015 with six drivers working on my project. Before the outbreak, these men had previously held other jobs – one was a Project Manager on mining site, another owned a catering company and a few were truck drivers. But when Ebola arrived, all these jobs disappeared.

We met in the shade of a large mango tree and over the next hour, sitting in dirt, we devised a plan for how to distribute the supplies to areas where they were most in need.

It required hours of driving on mountainous dirt tracks, spending many nights away from their families and risking their safety by driving around the district in rainy and dry seasons. They planned the routes according to their local knowledge and how many boxes for delivery they could fit in their 4-wheel-drives. Then they worked all hours of the day over the four day Easter holiday, collecting the boxes of supplies from the makeshift storeroom at the hospital and delivering them to the PHU’s.

When it came for the time for me to leave, at my farewell dinner one of the six men thanked me for sitting in the dirt with the drivers during that meeting. It was that simple gesture that demonstrated to these men that we could achieve this momentous task if we worked as a team.”

Amy graduated with a Master of International Public Health (now Master of Global Health) in 2011. Today she is the Public Health Coordinator for International SOS.

22 May 2018

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