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  • Olympian: Ambulances Wail in Sierra Leone -- On the Record


    Francis Dove Edwin receives a check from WOA president Joel Bouzou. (World Olympians Association)
    (ATR) An Olympian leads in the fight against Ebola.

    Francis Dove Edwin is a Sierra Leone native and a two-time Olympian, having competed in the 100 meter dash in the 1988 and 1992 Summer Games. He was appointed to the presidential task force appointed to the Presidential Task Force in Sierra Leone by the president of the country. 

    He then, as an Olympian, approached the World Olympians Association to ask for their support in raising funds to help fight the virus. The WOA responded in kind by setting up the #TargetEbola campaign. Edwin hopes that the campaign, with help from the membership of the World Olympians Association, will raise funds and awareness for West Africans suffering the effects of the virus.

    Around the Rings spoke to Edwin  about #TargetEbola’s goals, future, and more.

    Around the Rings: What are your goals with #TargetEbola?

    Francis Dove Edwin: We have many things we’re going to do with #TargetEbola. The first thing we’re going to do is addressing the needs of Sierra Leone. Basically, right now, the first thing we shipped over was the mattresses and beds because they need them. The second phase we’re looking at is supporting the local Sierra Leone doctors who want to start doing plasma therapy, which is when Ebola survivors transfer their blood to someone who has the virus in their system. So those are the two things we are focusing on right now: shipments of drugs for supported treatment and supporting the local doctors who are using plasma therapy.

    ATR: What’s more important – raising money or raising awareness?

    FDE: The first thing is raising awareness. Finance comes afterwards. Obviously, we need money to purchase facilities and equipment, but it’s also raising awareness and letting people know about the disease. Once the awareness is there, people will realize that we are Sierra Leoneans, we are West Africans, we’re not just a virus, and we shouldn’t just be isolated. Once something gets isolated, no one pays much attention to it.

    ATR: What have you heard on the ground in Sierra Leone about the virus?

    FDE: To be quite honest with you, the virus is ahead of us. I worked in Sierra Leone about two months ago, and from then to now, the virus is still ahead of us. We have to move very quickly so we can catch up and be ahead of the virus. But right now, the virus is ahead of everyone.

    ATR: Have you been working with their NOC?

    FDE: Yes, the NOC is working with us. As a matter of fact, the president of the NOC is actually a medical doctor, so he’s seen many of his colleagues catch the virus as well.

    ATR: Have you been working with other countries’ NOCs? Do you have plans to move the project beyond Sierra Leone?

    FDE: We haven’t been working with other NOCs, just Sierra Leone, and it’s the Olympians in Sierra Leone who have been working on it. #TargetEbola is actually moving and growing thanks to the support of Olympians. So, as the project grows, it’s moved beyond Sierra Leone to Guinea and Liberia. These three countries are always interlocked: when something starts in one place, it spreads to the others very quickly. For example, the civil war started ten to fifteen years ago in Liberia, and before you knew it, it spread to all three states.

    ATR: What else needs to be done in the fight against Ebola?

    FDE: We have the World Health Organization taking action so we can get a vaccine and a cure. Those are the main things we have to get to eventually: a vaccine and a cure. That’s the only way we’ll have sure protection over the virus

    ATR: Short of donating, what else can athletes do to help the cause?

    FDE: At the moment, that’s the only way they will be able to intervene. Unless they are medical doctors who can go to Sierra Leone and work in the field, athletes are just regular volunteers. Donations are the best contributions right now.

    ATR: Are you personally worried about the virus?

    FDE: Oh, of course. I was in Sierra Leone. Of course I’m worried about the virus. I have family that has been to Sierra Leone. Luckily, no one has died yet, but I have family members who know friends who have died of the virus. I have lost people I know personally to the virus. So we need to keep fighting the virus until we’re ahead of it. We’re still catching up because the virus is moving. When one person gets the virus, rest assured, it’s always going to go to one or two other people before you realize it. Ebola is attacking our cultural structure. You have to go ahead. If you have a conversation or a meeting, you’re not going to back off. You’re going to be exchanging things and talking and holding things they’ve touched in the house, so Ebola moves. That’s the tough part.

    ATR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

    FDE: People have to understand that, in Africa, it’s a very communal cultural and atmosphere. There was a lot of denial because it was a new virus. It had never been in West Africa, and we knew nothing about it. It wasn’t something like cholera that people knew about. So people should really refrain from stigmatizing others. Nobody wants to get Ebola. We should be aware of it, and we should help. That’s all we can do until whatever next medicine becomes available. People are dying. You wake up every day and you hear, “Forty-five people died today.” The next day, 35 people die. All you hear in Sierra Leone is ambulances going off at night. All night, ambulances just go up and down, picking up dead people. It’s a grieving situation from a violent killer that you can’t even see.

    Donations can be made at

    Interview by Andrew Murrell

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