Last year Aboriginal epidemiologist Dina Saulo travelled to
Western Africa to join efforts by the World Health Organisation
to stop the deadly Ebola virus sweeping the region.
A year later she’s now giving locals the tools to prevent
“It was actually a bit of a whirlwind. I arrived in May 2015,
towards the end of the outbreak, I came at a time when we were
really looking to identify cases early and contain them,”
Saulo, a Wemba Wemba and Gunditjmara woman, told BuzzFeed News
during a short holiday back in Australia.
“Initially, we were quarantining and monitoring those who had
come into contact with [those who tested] positive and
monitoring them and putting them out [of quarantine] as soon as
they were showing any symptoms, to reduce transmission to
others within quarantine.”
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At the end of 2014, when Saulo requested a deployment with the
World Health Organisation (WHO), the Ebola crisis was at its
The world had become transfixed and terrified by daily news
headlines of high death tolls while photos of workers in white
bio-hazard suits spraying dead bodies with disinfectant became
a constant fixture on television screens.
Despite the immense community fear at the time, Saulo held few
reservations about joining the health effort in Port Loko,
“It was big in the media and the main concerns were from family
members because there was not really a lot known about it at
the time and the high numbers of fatalities,” Saulo said.
“I thought, ‘well this is what my training is for,’ so, I put
my name down.”
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The West African Ebola epidemic was the most devastating in
recorded history. It likely started in Guinea in 2014,
transmitted from a bat to a human, before quickly spreading to
neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. It was the largest
outbreak ever seen with more than 27,000 cases and 11,000
“Western Africa had never seen Ebola before. There wasn’t much
knowledge about the transmission of Ebola and that’s why there
was a quick peak in a large number of cases,” Saulo said.
“It was devastating in Sierra Leone, their health system at the
time was not equipped. Yes, they had health clinics in remote
areas but they were under-resourced and there was much fear
about the disease.”
Epidemiologists, often called disease detectives, were crucial
in stopping the spread of Ebola.
“Our job is to find every single link. We need to find out who
infected whom, how, and where,” Dr Katrina Roper, a WHO
epidemiologist working in Sierra Leone said.
While the worst of the epidemic is over, new cases are still
Saulo is now working with the community in Sierra Leone to
ensure they have the skills and capacity to prevent future
“My work previously in Australia has been in Aboriginal health.
I think working with Aboriginal communities you’re actually
working in a similar way. It’s about respecting that community,
the people, their cultural practices and allowing those
communities to have ownership over what they’re doing,” Saulo