Australia Awards Alumna Neima Nora Candy receives University of Newcastle leadership award for fighting Ebola in Liberia
Neima Nora Candy, an Australia Awards Alumna from Liberia, has received the 2015 Alumni Award for National Leadership from The University of Newcastle. The award recognises an outstanding graduate who has made significant contributions as a leader in national business, commerce, industry or public service. Neima, who graduated with a Masters of Public Health in 2013, has been recognised for her leadership role in the fight against the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.“Liberia had few health care workers with my expertise so I was highly needed in the fight [against Ebola] at that time,” says Neima.
In July 2014, Neima, a Technical Assistant at the Ministry of Health in Liberia, was appointed as the National Ebola Coordinator at the Liberian Red Cross – leading a team of 100 staff members and 2850 volunteers and managing a US$25 million response budget. The program aimed to help contain the spread of Ebola in isolated communities across Liberia by training people in those communities to safely deliver basic care until the patient can be transferred to an Ebola Treatment Centre.
The newly acquired skills and knowledge she gained through her Masters thrust her into this leadership position. “Some of the courses I did like Global Health, Global Health Policies, and Introduction to Quality and Safety in Health gave me an edge over other health care personnel.”
When Neima joined the Liberian Red Cross, there was very little information about Ebola which was alarming for her and other health care workers. “International flights were shutting down their services to Liberia; there were mass movements of people that had money and foreign visas out of Liberia.”
In spite of the tense situation, Neima coordinated social mobilisation, contact tracing, psychosocial support, infection prevention and control through community-based protection, and safe and dignified burials of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) fatalities.
Neima also had to draw on the soft skills she learned while on-Award such as negotiation and community engagement. These skills were especially put to the test when it came to dealing with the bodies of Ebola victims safely – without infecting health workers or the 150 burial volunteers on her team. Communities were generally resistant to having Ebola bodies buried in their vicinity – blaming burials for the spread of the disease – and even resorted to rioting, causing a backlog in burials.
The Liberian Red Cross successfully held meetings with government officials and community leaders to discuss how and where they could dispose of the bodies safely. Despite the challenges faced, due to Neima’s extensive training on protective gear, no Liberian Red Cross volunteer or staff member contracted Ebola.
Apart from technical knowledge Awardees gain through their scholarships, an important aspect of the Australia Awards program is to equip Alumni with the ability to make significant contributions to their home countries as leaders.
Neima says she relied on these lessons from her experience in Australia to get through her tasks. “I was fresh from school in Australia and was well equipped with my MPH, and I also learned that it’s good to believe in yourself and the work you do. That was my greatest asset!”