New Brunswick

Eilish Cleary returns to work after mission to West Africa

Dr. Eilish Cleary is very happy to be back in New Brunswick after spending 10 weeks in West Africa, with a team from the World Health Organization, fighting the spread of the Ebola virus.

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health learned many lessons after 10 weeks fighting Ebola outbreak

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Elish Cleary is back to work in New Brunswick after spending ten weeks in West Africa helping the World Health Organization to fight the Ebola virus. (contributed)

Dr. Eilish Cleary is very happy to be back in New Brunswick after spending 10 weeks in West Africa, with a team from the World Health Organization, fighting the spread of the Ebola virus.

"It is nice to be home, lovely to see my family and it actually was really nice to go back to work on Monday," Cleary said in an interview.

"I work with a really nice group of people in the Department of Health and I got a warm welcome."

Cleary has monitored her own health and is now past the incubation period of 21 days after potential exposure to the deadly virus.

I think when you're here in Canada it's very hard to understand exactly what it's like and we get caught up in our own realities which sometimes can be small or petty compared with the scale of things happening over there.- Dr. Elish Cleary, N.B. chief medical officer of health

"A lot of people ran up and gave me a hug so they didn't show that they were afraid which was nice to see," she said.

"I think it is a disease that we have to start treating as relatively normal because the atmosphere of fear that surrounds it actually is compromising the response that's needed."

Cleary spent time in both Nigeria and Sierra Leone, where she says she learned a lot about the spread of the disease and how public health officers can intervene and control it.

In Sierra Leone, she was the area field co-ordinator for the World Health Organization.

While in the country, she wrote an essay that was published in the Irish Times.

Her essay tells the story of a 17-year-old boy watching his father being buried after already losing three other family members to Ebola.

"I composed it in the middle of the night one night when I couldn't sleep so it's something that I felt was important," Cleary said.

"I think when you're here in Canada it's very hard to understand exactly what it's like and we get caught up in our own realities, which sometimes can be small or petty compared with the scale of things happening over there." 

She said there are many stories that need to be told about Ebola.

"I think stories are important because they hopefully explain the need for what is required to be done and thus prompt some action," Cleary said.

Public health lessons learned

Cleary says when she left Sierra Leone, the level of transmission was still very high with between 80 and 100 new cases diagnosed every week in her district alone.

However, Cleary has also seen many improvements.

"People are getting diagnosed and tested pretty quickly, there are enough beds and there is clinical care available but the follow up of the contacts and the potential exposure in the community is still lacking so I think it is still going to continue to spread," she said.

Cleary says every new case of Ebola is "almost unnecessary and preventable" and Canadians have to be paying attention to it.

"Not only because it's the right thing to do for people there," she said.

"But if we really want to make a difference in preventing and reducing introduction to this country that's where we need to be putting our efforts."

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