By BETSY TAYLOR
Gwendolyn Delbridge, Saint Peter's University Hospital inpatient coordinator, and Tabiri Chukunta, Saint Peter's Healthcare System executive director of community outreach, are among those providing information about Ebola to West Africans in central New Jersey and overseas.
Saint Peter's University Hospital, a teaching hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., is educating West Africans in area communities about ways to prevent the transmission of Ebola and asking them to share the information with loved ones both domestically and abroad.
"This is not a West African problem; this is a human problem," said Tabiri Chukunta, executive director of community outreach and the diversity program at Saint Peter's Healthcare System, the hospital's parent company. The system brought together health care representatives from the U.S. and West African governments in September to develop an action plan to curtail the spread of the deadly virus in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria. One aspect of their work is sharing a message with West Africans throughout central New Jersey that they are concerned not only about the health of New Jersey residents but also for their loved ones living in the nations hardest hit by the epidemic.
Chukunta, who is from Nigeria, said in recent weeks the New Jersey Department of Health had published a brochure specifically for outreach to West African populations. It's called "Ebola Information for Friends and Family Returning to New Jersey from West Africa: Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria." In late October, the World Health Organization said Nigeria was free of new cases of Ebola virus transmission. The pamphlet describes the Ebola outbreak, how the disease spreads and steps people can take to protect against the illness. The brochure is adapted from resources developed in Rhode Island to educate West Africans there and is available at state.nj.us/health/cd/vhf/documents/West_Afr.pdf.
It lists Ebola's symptoms and explains that people should watch for these indicators for 21 days after returning from West Africa. It advises people not to handle or eat bush meat (from wild animals) brought back from Africa, and it tells people to call a doctor immediately if they have fever or other symptoms of Ebola within 21 days of returning from travel to West Africa. It says if people don't have a doctor, they should notify 911 or call a health care facility before they arrive to say they've recently traveled to West Africa. The brochure lists other information such as the need to avoid bodily fluids when caring for a sick family member.
In the first few weeks of the effort, from mid-September into October, Chukunta said the hospital had distributed 5,000 brochures to churches, mosques and community centers, particularly those that have West African attendees. New Jersey has more foreign-born residents per capita than the national average, with 20.8 percent of the state's residents identified as foreign born on the 2010 U.S. census, compared to 12.9 percent nationwide.
Chukunta said that community and religious leaders have been helping to distribute the written materials, and that people in leadership positions are speaking in their communities about Ebola. Chukunta said part of his work is educating people about cultural differences between populations, so he's been talking to leaders and at community forums about the importance of oral communication in West Africa. He said many people there put stock in the information they exchange in conversation and may receive the more accurate information about the disease from a respected community member, a relative or a friend.
Another message he's sharing is that the ritual washing of the dead should be suspended in West Africa, because the body of someone who died from Ebola will still be able to spread infection. "It's not an indication you don't love a family member; it's to stop the spread of this deadly virus," he said.
Nurse Gwendolyn Delbridge, the inpatient coordinator of Saint Peter's University Hospital, is among those who are passing on advice from the New Jersey Department of Health to safeguard her family in Liberia. She has relatives in Logan Town who she communicates with through texts, emails and weekly phone calls. She has talked with family about the importance of not eating bush meat, of limiting the touching of others and of frequently washing hands with soap and water. She also has talked with them about Ebola's symptoms and told them anyone exhibiting symptoms should seek medical help. She has asked her relatives to share the information with friends and at church. While she remains worried about those in Liberia, she feels she has been able to help by providing accurate information.
Chukunta said he hasn't heard from anyone in New Jersey who feels ostracized during the Ebola outbreak because they have ties to West Africa or are West African. "People are responding well, not resisting information," he said. "Everybody is trying to protect everybody."
Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association
of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby
or call (314) 253-3477.