West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, the deadliest on record, presents particular challenges for medical staff. Here, Irish doctor Gabriel Fitzpatrick describes working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) at the centre of the outbreak in Sierra Leone:
MSF constructed a special Ebola treatment centre here in Kailahun that opened at the end of June and is now almost full. Across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, this is where MSF has been seeing the biggest number of cases to date. There are villages that have lost the majority of their adults to the disease.
The people in this area are scared of the Ebola virus, but there are no signs of uncontrolled panic. Confidence is not in short supply. People speak of their belief that they can control this outbreak with the help of international organisations.
The scenes, however, can be heartbreaking.
In the suspected cases ward I saw a small child getting his nappy changed by a nurse who was wearing a full body plastic protective suit.
The child was clinging on to the nurse, searching and hoping for comfort in a place which does not allow direct skin-to-skin contact. As a father myself, this image stuck in my mind.
On the same evening, a mother and her two children were admitted to the hospital with confirmed Ebola. Within days the mother and eldest child had passed away.
It is startling how quickly this virus can kill patients. The remaining child is still receiving supportive care but his chances are not good.[eap_ad_2]
There are a few rules in the Ebola treatment centre that are sometimes difficult to remember and go against our natural instincts.
Firstly, shaking hands with anybody is forbidden, and you must keep a certain distance away from people at all times. This can feel isolating.
It is also immediately noticeable that staff do not touch their faces with their hands. This is because the virus is spread through contaminated fluids. If you have the virus on your hands and then touch your face or mouth you could develop Ebola.
West Africa – the health challenge
*In Sierra Leone, health spending stood at $96 (£58) per person in 2012. This compares favourably to Liberia ($66) and Guinea ($32). By comparison the UK spends $3,648 and US $8,895 Sierra Leone has 2.2 doctors for every 100,000 people (2012 figures). Guinea has 10 (2005) and Liberia just 1.4 (2008), both far behind the UK (279) and Switzerland (394).
*Resources in Sierra Leone and Liberia are drained by malaria treatment. Both had some 1.5 million confirmed and probable cases in 2012, from overall populations of about 6 million and 4 million respectively.
*Sierra Leone and Liberia have suffered economically due to civil war. Sierra Leone emerged from a decade of conflict in 2002, while long-running hostilities in Liberia ended the following year.
*Statistics source: World Health Organization [eap_ad_3]