By Greg Reaume, Managing Editor of CBC News Coverage
It’s been 10 months since the first cases of Ebola surfaced in the West African country of Guinea. Since then the disease has spread rapidly. From village to village, region to region, nation to nation creating a public health challenge of monumental proportions. And yet few Western journalists have ventured to the stricken zones to cover this dangerous, difficult, logistically daunting story.
By mid-August we at CBC had decided that reporting on the story from afar wasn’t enough. Despite the obvious risks, we had to be there. But establishing effective safety protocols and a workable coverage plan was complex and time-consuming – so much so, that last night was Adrienne Arsenault’s first report from the region.
The first challenge was simply identifying the crew. We needed a team with skill and experience operating in difficult, dangerous conditions. Each member of the team had to be comfortable accepting an unusual degree of personal risk. They not only had to guard against getting Ebola, they had to operate in a chaotic, increasingly unstable region with broken-down infrastructure and spreading fear.
All of the intelligence we had gathered from public health officials and security experts suggested that a smaller group could operate more safely than a larger one. A smaller group could travel with fewer vehicles, fewer driver/fixers and less local support. We had to control our environment and our close contacts as much as possible to minimize the risk of infection.
In the end we went with a three-person crew: correspondent Adrienne Arsenault, producer Stephanie Jenzer and cameraman/editor Jean-François Bisson. They will file for all CBC News platforms including on-line, radio and television. And they’ll be accompanied every step in Liberia by a highly-trained personal security expert – a former British military officer.
But there was much to do before leaving. Adrienne, Stephanie and Jean-François each needed 14 personal protection suits and careful instruction in how to use them. The suits will be double-bagged and destroyed after a single wearing. The crew practiced donning and doffing the cumbersome gear according to rigid protocols. Dr. Michael Gardam, one of Canada’s foremost infectious disease experts, and Dr. Tim Jagatic with Médecins Sans Frontières, spent hours educating our team on Ebola’s characteristics and how to handle specific scenarios.
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