Via The Independent, the must-read of the weekend if not of the whole outbreak. The author is Michael Van Herp: Exclusive: A Médecins Sans Frontières specialist on how the unprecedented spread of the ebola virus in west Africa makes the work of medics tougher than ever. Excerpt:
I received a message at home in Brussels about this strange disease which had broken out in Guédeckou, in southern Guinea. They thought that perhaps it was Lassa fever, but when I received a description of the patients' symptoms, it was clear to me that we were talking about ebola. A couple of days later I was in Guinea.
I've worked in every major outbreak of ebola since 2000. What makes this one different is its geographical spread, which is unprecedented. There are cases in at least six towns in Guinea, as well as across the border in Liberia. The problem is that everybody moves around – infected people move from one village to another while they're still well enough to walk; even the dead bodies are moved from place to place. So, as an epidemiologist tracking the disease, it's like doing detective work.
The other problem is that ebola has never been confirmed before in Guinea, so you can be blamed for being the messenger – you're the guy bringing the bad news that the village has been touched by ebola. To them it means death, so people often refuse to believe the reality.
We were tracing a patient who we finally found staying with family members in a very small village. He was an educated man – a professor. He'd become infected while caring for a colleague, who had caught the disease by caring for his sick uncle – when somebody is sick in Guinea, they are always cared for by people of the same sex.
The professor realised it was probably better for him to come with us to the MSF centre, but his nephew and an elderly female relative suddenly appeared and took the sick patient off into the forest. They had no confidence in the health system, and believed that people were killed in our centres, so they decided to keep their relative in the forest and cure him with leaves and herbs.
I followed them into the forest. They were very aggressive – the nephew took a big stick and was hitting the ground – but behind the aggression you could hear the pain in his voice. Eventually, we got a sample from the sick man, to make a proper diagnosis. The next day he asked us to come and collect him.