A Huddersfield-born doctor has returned from the frontline fighting deadly Ebola.
Dr Geraldine O’Hara, formerly of Salendine Nook, has spoken of the horrors she saw whilst out in Sierra Leone and the hope she has that volunteer doctors have made a difference.
Dr O’Hara, 36, volunteered to work for Médicines Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and was stationed at a 72-bed treatment centre at Kailahun, close to the border with Liberia.
Despite her previous experience working in Africa, Dr O’Hara said nothing could prepare her for the tragedy on the ground in the Ebola-hit areas of the country.
“I’ve seen some terrible things,” she said. “Particularly in relation to children. It’s incredibly hard.
“You can’t really explain to a two-year-old why this is happening.
“I’ve seen a mother whose child had died who couldn’t touch him.
“We talked and talked and it was probably the most poignant experience of my life.
“But at the same time I’ve cared for people who might not have made it through otherwise, so there’s some cause for celebration and you have to cling on to those moments.”
In a radio blog she added: “I’m really worried about the emotional impact this will have on me.
“The nurses tell me about opening a door and finding a woman clearly dead, curled up on the floor, cradling her baby, who was still alive.”
Despite the trauma of the public health disaster, Dr O’Hara said she felt honoured to be able to help stem the tide of the Ebola, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives in West Africa since the outbreak began last March.
“I’m actually in an incredible privileged position,” she said in a BBC radio interview.
“A lot of people watch the news and really want to do something to make a difference to people, so I’m very lucky that I can help.
“From a professional point of view, I’m a registrar in infectious diseases. This is the biggest outbreak of Ebola we’ve ever had so there’s a lot of professional experience to be gained.
“From a personal point of view, I knew I had the skills to work in that environment.
“I know I can cope with more difficult working circumstances and I felt I could do something about it.”
Dr O’Hara said the international efforts to help the disease hit communities had been “amazing.”
She added: “Cases have fallen, that’s probably something to do with our intervention.
“Our response to this outbreak has been amazing. It’s not enough but it’s still amazing.
“It can’t stop when Ebola stops as this country’s health service has fallen apart.
“It’s so difficult to tell the difference between someone who has Ebola, someone with malaria, and someone with pneumonia, that normal health facilities have shut down.”
Safely back in the UK, Dr O’Hara said she would gladly volunteer for Médicines Sans Frontières again and hoped others would too.
“I’m incredibly lucky,” she said.
“My friends, family and colleagues are totally supportive – that’s not been the case everywhere.
“There’s a huge amount of stigma about it, which is terrible as you don’t want people to be put off from helping.”