Disaster Protection Instead of Occupational Protection
Wolfgang Pentz has been working with MAN Diesel & Turbo in Augsburg for 37 years. In spring 2015 he swapped his protection helmet for a pith helmet and helped fight Ebola in Liberia.
What makes someone go into one of the most dangerous infection areas in the world? Wolfgang Pentz, an institution with MAN, has been a trained disaster manager specializing in drinking-water treatment since 2010. He completed the training program with the German Red Cross with which he has been working for a long time.
When the German government launched first appeals to volunteers in the wake of the Ebola epidemic in 2014, Mr. Penz registered after having discussed it with his family and friends: “Of course helping fight Ebola is more dangerous than helping after an earthquake; from my point of view, however, disasters are all equally dreadful, which is why I registered,” Mr. Penz explains. It took some time, however, before the project could get started: “The opening of our health care unit was delayed until December 23; the circumstances of the project were not clear for a long time.”
At the beginning of 2015, things suddenly picked up at a quite different pace: “I received a call from Berlin on January 9, 2015. I was supposed to travel directly to Liberia after a training in Würzburg, Germany.” Mr. Penz, however, first needed his superior’s final go: “I was told that when push comes to shove, MAN would grant me paid leave. However, we had to arrange everything at just under two week’s notice and my superior was on vacation.” A number of telephone calls later and a great deal of paperwork, everything was done and dusted and the project approved. The departure for Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, was set for January 23, 2015.
Mr. Pentz worked in a Severe Infection Temporary Treatment Unit (SITTU) and was responsible for drinking-water treatment, the production of disinfectants, and the maintenance of water pipelines. About 30 of his colleagues were from the Red Cross, 20 from the German Bundeswehr, and more than 120 from local areas. The focus during the project was on supporting the health system; Ebola patients were not treated at the SITTU: "There are more people that die because of Ebola and not of Ebola itself. The local doctors are afraid of treating patients that show symptoms of fever or diarrhea that can also be caused by the flu or malaria. “Of course I was in awe of the disease. But we were pretty much isolated in our area in general.”
When it comes to the lessons learned for himself, he will try to appreciate life in Germany a bit more: “We complain about so many tiny issues. We complain about first world problems. In Liberia the worries were very different from ours.” Mr. Pentz is still in contact with some helpers and his outlook is not as bleak as it might seem: “My overall impression was that we can come to grips with the situation with the help and experience of Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross, and others, even though, of course, help will still be needed in future.”