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Cause of death: other people’s panic (plus ebola)

“One day four children, all aged around three and four, were brought to us from another health facility sick with fever. They were from two different families but lived in the same house, where two adult family members had died of the disease. The children arrived in the ambulance accompanied by a mother and an aunt, but the mother refused to let them out. She didn’t believe the children had Ebola, or that their family members had died from it – she was convinced they had been poisoned by something. It took us over an hour to persuade her to even leave the ambulance.” Hannah Spencer, MSF Doctor. 

There is a lot of fear surrounding Ebola, which so far has done nothing to halt the spread of the disease. If anything, panic has exacerbated the situation in affected areas such as  Freetown, Sierra Leone where Saidatu Koroma a 25 year old woman went on the run after testing positive for the disease. No one knows where Saidatu went, or who she might have been in contact with during this period, but many speculate that she might have visited religious institutions  for a solution. If these speculations are true, one can only imagine how many faithful worshippers have been converted to faithful departed by this single act.

With 646 cases to date, Sierra Leone has had the highest number of Ebola cases during this outbreak. This cannot be unrelated to the panic-driven attitudes of those within the community.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a highly infectious virus that kills up to 90% of people who catch it. If the current outbreak has only killed less than 2,000 people, why the panic?

1. It kills quickly, taking people from healthy to dead in about 12 days.

2. It is highly infectious and is transmitted through close contact with blood, sweat, tears, saliva, seminal fluid or any other bodily secretions. This could be a disaster in densely populated cities, and could wipe out swathes of people in weeks. Men who have recovered can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery.

3. There is no known cure, anti-retroviral, pacifier, treatment or vaccine. The situation can turn very grim and out of control very quickly.

What are the Symptoms?

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 16.48.28

Early symptoms are sudden fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and sore throat. These can appear between 2 – 21 days after exposure. This means that if anyone caught it from exposure to Patrick Sawyer on the flight on July 20, they might start to show symptoms anytime between 21st July and 11th August.

Later symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding.

Has anyone recovered from Ebola?

Yes. The best outcomes so far during this outbreak have been recorded in Guinea. This story:  I caught Ebola in Guinea and Survived features a survivor, and the work of the MSF (Doctors Without Borders) who have had to close a treatment centre after no new cases were reported in 21 days. In another part of the country, MSF established a dedicated treatment centre where patients were quarantined and given end of life care, and amazingly 75% of these patients recovered from the disease.

Granted, fewer reported cases might not be as a result of the outbreak being contained, but rather as a result of infected people hiding in villages. However the 75% positive outcome of patients who have attended the treatment centre is refreshing. This is in contrast to the situation in Liberia which is deteriorating rapidly as a result of poor containment and response by the government and poor attitudes by citizens . Many Liberians don’t believe that Ebola is real, and they are suspicious of the government and health care workers, to the point where charity workers have been attacked and the ministry of health set ablaze.

Prevention and Control

While knowledge is key, individual knowledge alone isn’t sufficient for protection. Individuals are better protected when entire communities understand preventative measures to take, what symptoms to watch out for, and what to do in the event that someone falls ill.

1. Don’t eat bush meat.

2. Avoid unnecessary contact, especially with sick people or in hospitals.

3. Disinfect your surroundings and fumigate if you have pests.

4.  Don’t touch dead bodies or dead animals.

5. Tell those around you, and correct them if they are wrong – even if it is in jest. The most important this is to pass this message across.

6. Ebola virus is diagnosed using a variety of tests such as antibody-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, electron microscopy and virus isolation by cell culture and under very controlled conditions. Most local clinics do not have the equipment or the conditions to make accurate diagnosis, therefore it is advised that if you notice any symptoms, you call the appropriate department at the local government hospital to get tested. 

1. 08023169485
2. 08033086660
3. 08033065303
4. 08055281442
5. 08055329222 

As a significant number of the casualties from this virus have been health workers, WHO has released an action plan detailing how more deaths can be prevented, including that of health workers, and this includes providing health personnel with incentives, protection and treatment so that they can feel safe in their jobs. This is particularly important when you imagine the likely outcome of health workers quitting poorly remunerated, but risky jobs en masse for their own safety.

It is important to remain prayerful, wise and calm enough to continuously evaluate the situation, as well as the impact of our actions on those around us, even in the face of fear. This single act alone can give us a chance of saving our lineage, even in the face of natural selection.

We, your bosom buddies at MyMetro have created some free printable ebola information posters in simple English and Pidgin. Please print them out here and share with your friends: http://www.mymetrong.com/ebolaposter/

About Zima Meli

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