At the start of the month I returned to Sierra Leone after more than two decades away. As the country of my mother's birth, I spent a lot of time there as a child and my memories centred around the people, their energy and enthusiasm. The civil war and Ebola have undeniably taken their toll on these things in my absence, it certainly hasn't destroyed them.
Ebola no longer makes the headlines, driven out by news of Zika virus and the crisis in Syria. But the terrible legacy of Ebola persists in West Africa, for the survivors who suffer stigma and fear long-term complications, and for all of those who are vulnerable and in need of healthcare at a time when the health system has been brought to its knees.
Schengen in on life support and West African manufacturers should pay close attention. They are already convinced they won't be able to compete with the cheaper, better quality imports, which will be the inevitable result of a forthcoming EU/Africa free trade agreement. For most, exporting to Europe is a distant dream anyway. Increased border restrictions will make it even more unlikely.
The 49 households that make up Massesebe were under lockdown after a man who had travelled to the village from Freetown for the Eid celebrations, died of Ebola. This was the first Ebola case in Tonkolili District in five months. 498 people, including 101 children under five, were quarantined in the village and two people confirmed as being Ebola positive.
In November, Sierra Leone was reporting 550 new cases of ebola every week. Today the number has slowed to seven new cases a week. Just a few weeks ago, the schools reopened. But there is still a long road ahead for Sierra Leone, and the brave women of West Africa who have already endured so much. I hope that next spring these tragic times will all be in the past, and Sierra Leone's future will once again look bright.
Oxfam is in Liberia and Sierra Leone for the long haul. We're continuing to work with communities to build understanding of Ebola treatment and how to stay healthy, providing financial support to help families get back on their feet, and helping them guard against infectious diseases by equipping schools and clinics with clean water and sanitation.
Following my visit, I found that the amazing resilience of the local communities, working alongside truly heroic overseas medical staff and aid workers, had left an overwhelming impression on me. It is thanks to each one of them that Ebola has not reached our shores this time around. But, if the immense poverty in countries like Sierra Leone persists then there is no saying when the next outbreak of Ebola - or something equally horrific - will occur.
Kate Gross, my friend and our founding CEO in AGI, died on Christmas day after a two year battle with cancer. Our last conversation was some weeks before, sitting in the November sun in Cambridge. She knew the chemo was coming to an end and we both knew what came next. But that wasn't what we talked about.