Fighting ebola on the frontline

While the rest of the world watched from a safe distance, UQ masters graduate Dr Ronald Carshon-Marsh found himself tackling the Ebola crisis in West Africa, up close and personal.

Ronald commenced his studies at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences in his home country of Sierra Leone. He graduated with an MBChB degree in 2008 and worked as a medical officer. In 2012, he received an Australian Awards Scholarship to study a masters degree in UQ’s School of Public Health.

Upon completing his master’s degree in 2013, Ronald returned home to Sierra Leone and was immediately appointed to the post of Lead and Medical Superintendent of the Koidu Government Hospital. Shortly after taking on the role, the Ebola outbreak was officially declared by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Despite already working flat out to keep the hospital running with a shortage of doctors and health staff, Ronald was given additional duties to assist with the outbreak. He rapidly became the head of Ebola case management.

“We worked tirelessly but we were unable to contain the outbreak,” recalls Ronald, “so international help was paramount. Eventually we received support from various NGOs including WHO, Red Cross, World Vision and many others.”

Quote byDr Ronald Carshon-Marsh

Community ownership of the response to the outbreak was critical, and Ronald credits his UQ study with preparing him to take control and assist with the community mobilisation, engagement and surveillance required.

“Through the combined effort and resources coordinated by the District Ebola Response Centre and District Health Management Team, the response became more effective with active community participation.”

Quote by Dr Ronald Carshon-Marsh

Late in 2015, 18 months after the outbreak was detected, Sierra Leone was officially declared Ebola-free. The country now has safeguards in place to guide the response to future disease outbreaks, and ultimately to save lives.

Based on the significance of this work, Ronald was awarded a UQ Faculty of Medicine 2016 Excellence Award. Ronald was awarded the Young Alumni Excellence Award for dedication to improving the lives of others in his work, under the most challenging circumstances both within Sierra Leone and internationally.

In December 2016, Ronald was promoted by the Chief Medical Officer to become District Medical Officer in charge of the Moyamba District Health Management Team. Ronald then accepted the opportunity to participate in a global training course for future health leaders in Japan.

This intensive month long course focused on capacity development in health systems planning at Tokai University, supported by the JICA Yokohama International Centre.

Ronald has since represented Sierra Leone at a critical WHO technical workshop. This workshop focused on collating perspectives from those with experience in Ebola-affected West African countries, and the linkages between early recovery, resilience and quality universal health care.

The Ebola epidemic exposed a myriad of challenges facing Sierra Leone’s health system – from disease surveillance to infection prevention and control. Ronald continues to work towards creating change at a local level, while contributing to the development of health policies on a global scale.