Intervention: An Ebola Conversation

The news comes in that approximately 500 metres walk from the Enabling Access to Mental Health Office in Freetown an Ebola positive patient has escaped and is wandering around the streets of Freetown.

We don’t know where and we don’t know who she is. She is in the later stages of the disease, we hear she is bleeding from her eyes, she is very feverish and has been throwing up.

Later we hear she did not discharge herself but her family came and forcibly removed her from the hospital.

There are so many rumours and paranoid beliefs surrounding this killer disease; some say that it was started by the white doctors to harvest human organs (and I, too, would take a family member away from doctors if I thought that was true).

Some say it has all been invented by the government – reasoning that we are in census year and the predominately northern governing party wants to reduce the number of southerners in the country so they are just killing them.

Some say it is witchcraft and so they take their patients to traditional healers instead.

Some say that because they know that if their loved one dies of Ebola in hospital they will not be allowed to touch or bury the body they break them out of hospital so that they can die at home.

Although usually dying at home with family is seen as preferable, in times of Ebola that is the worst idea as a dead body is the most contagious thing in the world of Ebola.

We know that families that break their patients out of hospital and take their loved ones home are also getting Ebola and dying – that is the nature of the illness – but they are not being seen by hospitals at all, therefore being ignored in the figures and the virus successfully spreads and spreads under our nose.

Fear spreads, too, and all we know today is: a highly contagious woman is wandering around the neighbourhood.

Carmen briefs us – and I go outside for air. Outside the Security guard looks at me – we smile and sigh at the same time. The bucket of chlorinated hand washing water is outside the front and the security guard looks at it and then at me.

I can feel he has a burning question to ask:

Him: “So. This Ebola. Are we supposed only to drink this chlorinated water from now on?”

Me: “No, that is for hand washing only, the chlorine kills the Ebola virus. Please, DO NOT drink that water”

Him: “Ok ok.” He pauses. “So. How do you get Ebola?”

Me: “Well, it is passed from human to human through body fluids- urine, saliva, sweat, mucus, blood”

Him: “Mmhmm. So it is passed through fluids. So if you are washing downstream from a man who has Ebola you will get it in the water.”

Me: “No, it is passed in human fluids so water is safe at the moment. Unless we get Cholera, too”

Him: “Cholera! No,” he agrees, “This Ebola is not a mosquito thing.”

Me: “No, cholera is not from mosquitoes – that is malaria!” – Oh my god!

Him: “Mmhmm……So, if a person has Ebola and sweats into his clothes, and that man takes off his clothes to wash and leaves them out, then I will come along and put his clothes on and I will get Ebola.”

Me: “What? Well, maybe, I mean, I think it is a good rule in life not to put on random clothes that you find as you never know where they have been or what has happened in them, but if you must do this then can I suggest that you wash them thoroughly first, leave them to dry in the sun and let them dry well as we know that the Ebola virus can not survive out of fluid so if the infected fluid is dry then there is no problem!”

Him: “Mmhmm.”

And we wonder why it is spreading! So far 225 people in Sierra Leone have died as a result of Ebola and many more are expected to die. Children are being orphaned and still people don’t understand.

Still more questions. Next he turns his attention to the anti-ebola virus poster which Carmen has placed by the gates.

He points at the picture of the man wrapped in a blanket.

“This is the rash you will get.” He says.

“Well, I think that shows the fever. See, this picture of the man with the red chest. This is the rash.”

“Mmhmm.” Next he points at the picture of bush meat (thought to be the original way Ebola got into humans),

Him: “So we should not eat bushmeat any more?”

Me: “No, just to be safe.”

Long pause.

Him: “Not even if we find it dead?”


One thought on “Intervention: An Ebola Conversation

  1. Sarah Campbell says:

    That does put some perspective on the situation – thank you. No doubt we will hear more when you two arrive safely in London Gatwick on Saturday morning……although whether you will get your suitcases off the ‘plane is the Gatwick state of emergency. No laughing matter for the Sierra Leonians – if you don’t know these things and you see the disease in your Loved One – you must be as scared as hell.


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