The Head of Mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Bernard Metraux, has described the Liberian winner of this year’s Florence Nightingale Medal, Roselyn Nugba-Ballah, as a true and committed patriot who responded appropriately when her nation needed her the most.
Metraux said Mrs. Ballah, Supervisor of the Liberian Red Cross’ Safe and Dignified Burial Team, was one of few beacons of hope to a weary and perplexed nation as she, along with few others, moved courageously through communities in Monrovia and its environs and other parts of the country to collect corpses during the height of the Ebola virus disease outbreak.
The ICRC head made these comments at the award presentation ceremony in Monrovia where Nurse Ballah was presented with the Florence Nightingale Medal. She was among 39 other individuals from 22 countries to win the 2017 edition of the award—an initiative of the ICRC.
As a professional nurse, Mrs. Ballah was very instrumental in the fight against the Ebola virus disease that ravaged Liberia and its neighbors in 2014-2015 as the intervention of a team of volunteers led by her – as Supervisor, led to the success of the Liberian response at which time the country became the first to be pronounced free of the infectious disease.
Her team took on the task of disposing of the corpses of the EVD victims, a task that was even rejected by internationally acclaimed and better equipped medical organizations. She was nominated by LNRCS and selected by a commission comprised of the ICRC, IFRC & RCS and the International Council of Nurses in May 2017.
“I would like, on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross, to praise Mrs. Ballah for her exceptional commitment during the terrible period of the Ebola scourge,” the ICRC head said.
Mrs. Ballah and her team, he said, put their lives at risk, allowing the disease’s victims to be buried with dignity and safely for people around them, adding: “They too were faced with the same discrimination as were the actual victims of the disease.”
“We have to praise them for being the real drivers of the success in the war against Ebola, avoiding the spread of the disease –this led to saving thousands of lives. We have, in our tribute to their courage and determination, to associate in our praises all those in other organizations and the Ministry of Health who contributed to the success of the world,” he said.
During the height of the crisis, the whole world was panicking as the possibility of a global spread became more evident—leading to the WHO declaring the scourge a global health emergency.
“There was fear to travel, not just in the region but globally. We all can recall at that the time how the sanitary controls were setup in all airports and borders. But beyond the preventive measures taken, there was an incredible work done in areas where the disease was making victims daily. This is where our honoree and her team were working to ensure the eradication of the scourge,” he said.
“So, today, we are expressing our deep recognition to those courageous volunteers of the Red Cross who were the frontline fighters against Ebola. They dedicated themselves fully to a war against one of the most, if not the most at that time the most risky diseases the world was confronted with.”
The medal aims to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves in times of peace or war by exceptional courage and devotion to the wounded, sick or disabled, or to civilian victims of a conflict disaster; who show exemplary services or a creative and pioneering spirit in the areas of public health or nursing education.
He indicated that “it is no doubt that Mrs. Ballah corresponds fully to the conditions of this award. And through Roselyn, it is to all those who were fighting against Ebola we want to praise and express our recognition.”
Mrs. Ballah and her team members are being praised globally for taking up the courage, resilience and tenacity to defend their compatriots against the rampaging Ebola Virus Disease that had overwhelmed not just the country but the Mano River Union—devastating three of the four member MRU countries (here, Guinea, Sierra Leone).
Metraux hoped that these awards, beyond the legitimate recognition to the heroes and heroines, will be an encouragement to the LNRCS to build its full capacity to respond to disasters and assist the vulnerable.
With this award, Mrs. Ballah joins Dr. Jerry Brown, Representative Saah Joseph and other Liberian medical professionals who received international recognition for their respective roles in the fight against Ebola.
In her acceptance remarks, a visibly overwhelmed Ballah lauded members of her team whose efforts, she noted, had led to such a prestigious recognition. “This medal is for all of us. We all worked for it, and we deserve it together,” she said.
The honoree, who had earlier observed a moment of silence for those who lost their lives to the scourge, also lauded her husband who gave her the space to serve her country in such a dangerous time. “He, along with my mom, was the pillar of my strength,” she said.
She recounted how she and her team members were chased from some communities with machetes and other deadly objects as they were being accused of coming to spread the virus. “But through all of that we were focused and committed to our duties, and at the end of the day we all served our country and made it safe.”
The government, represented by Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf and Red Cross President Jerome Clarke, lauded Mrs. Ballah for making Liberians proud. “She worked diligently and this award comes as no surprise,” Minister Sirleaf said.
Also attending the ceremony were the Ambassadors of Germany, Great Britain and Brazil. British Ambassador, David Belgrove presented the certificate of honor to the honoree.
Florence Nightingale, in whose honor the award is named, was a nurse operating with the British Army in the battlefield during the Crimea War, 165 years ago – before the birth of the Red Cross – who dedicated herself to the wounded of this bloody war.
Since the Ebola response, the Liberian Red Cross and some of its staff and volunteers have and continue to receive several awards. The LNRCS, up to present, has received nine awards-five international and four national. Some of these include Golden Image Award, Investiture Ebola Virus Disease Award, Spanish Red Cross Ebola Virus Disease Award, and the Special Humanitarian Award.