Neima Nora Candy, an Australia Awards Alumna from Liberia, has received the 2015 Alumni Award for National Leadership from the University of Newcastle. The Award recognises an outstanding graduate who has made significant contributions as a leader in national business, commerce, industry or public service. Neima, who graduated with a Masters of Public Health in 2013, has been recognised for her leadership role in the fight against the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
In July 2014, Neima, a Technical Assistant at the Ministry of Health in Liberia, was appointed as the National Ebola Coordinator at the Liberian Red Cross – leading a team of 100 staff members and 2,850 volunteers, managing a US$25 million response budget. “Liberia had few healthcare workers with my expertise, so I was highly needed in the fight [against Ebola] at that time,” says Neima.
The newly acquired skills and knowledge she gained through her Masters thrust her into this leadership position. “Some of the courses I did, like Global Health, Global Health Policies, and Introduction to Quality and Safety in Health, gave me an edge over other healthcare personnel.”
At the time Neima joined the Liberian Red Cross, there was very little information about Ebola, which was alarming for her and other healthcare workers. “International flights were shutting down their services to Liberia; there were mass movements of people who had money and foreign visas out of Liberia.”
In spite of the tense situation, Neima coordinated social mobilisation, contact tracing, psychosocial support, infection prevention and control through community-based protection, and the safe and dignified burials of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) fatalities.
Neima also had to draw on the soft skills she learned while on-Award, such as negotiation and community engagement. These skills were put to the test when it came to safely dealing with the bodies of Ebola victims without infecting health workers or the 150 burial volunteers on her team. Communities were generally resistant to having Ebola bodies buried in their vicinity, blaming burials for the spread of the disease, and even resorted to rioting, causing a backlog in burials. The Liberian Red Cross successfully held meetings with government officials and community leaders to discuss how and where they could dispose of the bodies safely. Despite the challenges faced, due to Neima’s extensive training on protective gear, no Liberian Red Cross volunteer or staff member contracted Ebola.
Apart from the technical knowledge Awardees gain through their scholarships, an important aspect of the Australia Awards program is to equip Alumni with the ability to make significant contributions to their home countries as leaders. Neima says she relied on these lessons from her experience in Australia to get through her tasks. “I was fresh out of school in Australia and was well equipped with my MPH. I also learned that it is good to believe in yourself and the work you do, which was my greatest asset.”