Fighting Ebola

Ebola hit the headlines a year ago, as the outbreak in West Africa began to spiral – seemingly out of control. One of the world’s most virulent diseases, it can have a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent. The world began to sit up and take notice as the death toll rose to 1,000 and appeared to be spreading uncontained.

To date, the outbreak has claimed over 10,000 lives, making it the deadliest occurrence of the disease since it was first discovered in 1976. In fact, this one outbreak has taken more lives than all the other known outbreaks added together. But, terrible as those statistics are, they are beginning to improve. The numbers of new cases of Ebola have begun to drop, thanks to the brave men and women from around the world who have travelled to West Africa to help care for those suffering from the disease.

One such man is David Collins Owuor. He began his life in Nairobi – in the slums of Kibera. Growing up, he saw sickness and disease cripple his community, taking the lives of children prematurely, and leaving grown men and women unable to work and provide for their families. He dreamt of a different life, one where disease did not haunt him; one where, instead, he fought it head on. It was a wild dream for a boy living in one of the world’s most notorious slums.

But this boy’s dreams were a window to his potential, and when as a young man he was registered at his local church into a Compassion project, those dreams began to take shape. Today, this man smiles as he remembers his sponsor, and the Compassion staff who were determined to help him reach his potential: “I thank God for my sponsors, Lee and Elizabeth.”

Thanks to Compassion, David was able not only to go to school, but to university afterwards. Here he studied Biomedical Technology, as his dreams of fighting disease began to become a reality. He won a full British government scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in the United Kingdom. Today, David works as a research scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute and Centre for Disease Control.

It’s not a quiet desk job. When it became apparent that the West African Ebola outbreak would need outside intervention, David was among the first group of African scientists deployed to combat the virus.|

David was based in Liberia, and he has a deep admiration for the resilience of the people he had gone to serve and protect. “Liberians are very kind, peaceful and social. Many of the youth volunteered their services without pay, assisting with basic chores around the isolation facilities. It was touching, too, to see patients who had recovered from the disease return to take care of others.”

David worked closely with the Liberian government to write and implement policies that would reduce the spread of the virus. A lack of education had been a major factor in the spread of the disease, so these policies involved outreach programmes to the villages, where everyday customs were perpetuating the virus. David explains, “Media communication enabled us to inform people about how to keep safe, and how to interact with each other without spreading the disease.”

Thanks to the work of men and women like David, Liberia recently released its last patient from the isolation facility, marking the end of Ebola in the country. Other countries in West Africa have also confirmed reductions in reported Ebola cases. Scientists are confident that the complete eradication of this outbreak is achievable.

David has now returned to Kenya, where he is using his expertise to help plan for future outbreaks. This boy from the slums has ‘done good’. In fact, he has done great. But he wants to do greater still. “I am currently applying for a PhD, because what I would really like to do is set up a genetic testing and cancer research facility in East Africa. There is nothing like that in the region, and it would really give back to my community.”

David’s story could so easily have been different were it not for someone on the other side of the world choosing to step in and make it possible for his dreams to become a reality. By helping one boy overcome the obstacles that poverty had placed in his path, Lee and Elizabeth have empowered him to help a whole nation fight for survival.

If you would like to help a child like David reach his God-given potential, visit www.compassionuk.org

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