• Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Coping with Ebola crisis

Andrew Eagle

Sergeant KM Mehedi Hasan of Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police was elated to learn that he had been selected to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Little could the father of one from Khulna imagine that the success would land him in the midst of West Africa's ebola epidemic.

Thirty-two-year-old Hasan was one of only eight officers offered a UN Police Adviser position in Liberia this year.

On 9 June 2014 they arrived in Monrovia, raising the total number of Bangladeshi officers in Liberia to 12. “I first heard of ebola during induction … It worried me, but it's not the only disease here,” says Hasan.

Hasan was subsequently posted to Robertsport on Liberia's north-eastern coast near the Sierra Leonean border. It is a small town famous for surfing beaches and fresh fish, and is considered a good posting place.

With one Bangladeshi colleague, Sergeant Rasel Bhuiyan, Hasan joined a small UN police team tasked with mentoring the Liberian National Police.

“I wasn't too worried. Ebola wasn't in this county. But after the first case was reported here I became serious about prevention … I still am,” he says.

Hasan uses hand sanitisers and gloves, washes hands regularly and sometimes wears a mask and protective glasses. “The UN has procedures to keep us safe,” says Hasan. “Our duty has also changed to three days on, three days off, to limit risk.”

Two ebola cases have been confirmed in Robertsport with 31 people under observation. Of greater concern, locals forcefully snatched one ebola patient from the hospital, believing that ebola is a Liberian government conspiracy hatched to attract western money and stay in power.

“The situation is stable … because most people think ebola is not real.” Hasan believes public education on transmission prevention is critical.

“In some areas medical teams have been beaten and their equipment burnt. Shots were recently fired against anti-government demonstrators in Monrovia who think ebola is a government ploy,” says Hasan.

Hasan was in Bo Waterside near the Sierra Leonean border where an ebola patient died. Even after three days, the authorities were yet to arrive to dispose of the highly contagious body. “The man's family stayed with his body … His daughter refused to leave,” says Hasan.

The locals threatened if the medical team didn't arrive by 4:00pm to take the body, they would parade it through the streets. The situation calmed after the UN team made arrangements for burial.

For police officers like Hasan, a UN posting offers the chance to broaden professional experience and proudly represent Bangladesh. It is an honest means to secure a better future for their family. But Hasan's wife no longer cares about the benefits to their family. She wants her husband home safe.

Hasan remains upbeat. “I feel proud to represent Bangladesh and work for the UN. The headquarters is managing the ebola risk. We have procedures to follow. But I don't know what I would've done had I known of ebola earlier.” The latest ebola outbreak has claimed more than 1,400 lives.

 

Published: 12:02 am Monday, September 01, 2014

Last modified: 12:23 am Friday, September 05, 2014

TAGS: UN peace mission UN Peacekeepers Ebola epidemic Ebola crisis Sergeant KM Mehedi Hasan

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