What would cause a newly married 28-year-old with a highly regarded skill set and his own practice to leave his home and risk contracting a highly contagious disease with a high mortality rate? “Humanity is what,” clinician Stephen Kariuki tells Capital FM News as he sips a cup of tea just hours before his scheduled departure for either Liberia or Sierra Leone.
“They’ll tell us today,” he says without the slightest hint of apprehension at not knowing exactly where he’ll be posted.
Stephen is one of 170 health workers Kenya is deploying to the Ebola ravaged nations on Friday as part of its commitment to the African Union.
The deployment is on an entirely voluntary basis and Stephen is just one of 700 Kenyan health workers who applied with the Ministry of Health to work in Ebola treatment centres, testing centres and as part of body disposal teams.
This is despite the high number of health workers, 600, who have contracted the virus in the course of these duties with over half of them succumbing to their infections.
“So far we’ve had one day of training but we’ve been informed that we’ll get two weeks’ worth of training when we get to West Africa,” Stephen says during the tea break that precedes another half day of training at the Sarova Panafric.
And to stress the importance of proper training: “At the onset some of the contaminations did come up as the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) was being taken off,” AU Director of Social Affairs Olawale Maiyegun told the press only minutes prior to Capital FM News’ conversation with Stephen.
Even fully appraised of this risk, Stephen says there is no turning back. “It’s just something that I have to do.”
Edelquinn Sabala, a nurse, who sips on a glass of juice less than a metre away from Stephen, feels the same way.
“Down in me my will is telling me to go,” she says.
So committed is she to her decision to apply to be part of the Kenyan, “delegation,” to the Ebola ravaged nations that she even resigned from her job in the maternity wing of a private hospital.
“They declined to give me a leave of absence; company policy,” she puts simply.
And as Stephen leaves his wife behind, she leaves behind her orphaned nephews.
“There’s three of them: a 13-year-old, 10-year-old and seven-year-old,” she enumerates.
But even the thought of leaving them behind is not enough to sway her decision.
“Off course my family tried to talk me out of it but while I respect their advice, I’m not scared of anything. I’m going to West Africa to face Ebola real and I’m going to fight with it and I’m sure I’ll be back.