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Sunday 22 October 2017

'The last thing I want to do is bring Ebola back into Ireland'

DANGER: He's seen natural disasters, war and illness in every place imaginable, but on Monday Dualta takes on his biggest challenge yet when he goes to Sierra Leone, he tells Joyce Fegan

Dualta Roughneen manages disasters for a living and even though his work has taken him to volatile places like Afghanistan, North Korea and Sudan, his latest mission, to Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone, is the first to make him consider his mortality.

"The last thing I want to do is bring Ebola back into Ireland," admits the 36-year-old Plan Ireland aid-worker. "I'm not really nervous but I am a little bit apprehensive. It's the first time I've gone into something like this," he adds.

In 2003, when he was a fresh-out-of-college engineer, Dualta left home to rebuild the bridges, dams and wells of Afghanistan for 12 months.

"On my first job I was young and enthusiastic but quite fearless. I was 24 but now I'm more reticent about it. When you become a little older you also become a little bit more aware of your mortality," says Dualta.

But now in truth there is a slight personal worry that in Sierra Leone he might actually contract the deadly virus.

"The risk of contracting it in the type of work I will be doing is very, very low but on the off-chance it does happen the fatality rate is 50 to 52pc," he states.

Asked whether he worries that will happen, he answers: "It does sit in the back of my mind."

And he admits his family - including five siblings - is more concerned than usual.

"Everyone in my family is worried even though they know I've been doing this type of work for a while. My parents are understanding ,but reluctantly understanding. Both of my parents would prefer if I wasn't going," says the aid-worker.

comforts

After graduating from engineering Dualta wanted to make a difference in the world and for the last 12 years has removed from the comforts of western civilisation to help others in far flung corners of the globe well.

Dualta went to Cameroon for the recent cholera outbreak there, to Ethiopia during that country's last major food shortage, and to the Central African Republic this year during the conflict there.

He spent more than two years in the dictator-led country of North Korea, from 2004 to 2007, setting up rural water systems.

"A lot of people ask me about it. North Korea was very interesting. The people were lovely, very nice people. They live in a very difficult country," said the aid-worker of his time in the secretive communist state.

After that he went to Africa for a year including stints in Sudan and Liberia.

"In Sudan it was such a tough place ,especially in Darfur with the security and the heat. There were strict security restrictions and very basic facilities," he explains.

Would he ever consider a career change, something with a little less immediate self risk? The soft-spoken Dualta simply says it's about "difference".

"I enjoy the difference that the work can make even if it's only small," he answers.

On Monday, Dualta will leave for Sierra Leone, risking his life so that he can help others.

By Tuesday morning he'll be in the capital, Freetown and will get straight to work. Preparations and precautions have been both physical and psychological.

"Even within Freetown there are a number of cases so I have to be very careful of my own personal behaviour and who I can in contact with.

"I'll be using hand sanitizer and a chlorine solution to wash my hands regularly and everyone coming in and out of the office will have their temperature checked. I also have to be psychologically prepared, like I have to psyche myself up because you're taking a step into the unknown," says Dualta.

For the Mayo man his official role out there is Emergency Response Manager for Plan Ireland. "We've been watching it since the first case emerged but we hoped it would be a limited outbreak but that hasn't happened. It was always potentially looming that I'd go out there - when disasters happen it's part of my job. I thought it might happen but I had my fingers crossed that it wouldn't," admits Dualta.

In total, he will spend a month in the West African country but how exactly will he re-enter Ireland to make sure he doesn't bring the virus with him?

"I'll limit my social interaction during the 21-day incubation period, like I won't be going into the office and I'll be checking my temperature regularly," he answers.

Donate to Plan Ireland's Ebola response atwww.plan.ie/ebola Freefone: 1800 829 829

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