Via The Globe and Mail, a really good article by Sierra Leonean resident Stephen Douglas: Chaos and Ebola fears in Sierra Leone. Excerpt:
There’s a frantic feel palpable throughout downtown Freetown these days. A frenetic Ebola fanaticism has taken over, especially now that there are more than 40 confirmed cases within city limits. All talk is of Ebola, from street corner to office block, from cookery shops to bank queues.
Knowing your body temperature has become a fact of life in Freetown, where I’ve been living and working for the past five years since coming over from Canada.
I’ve had my temperature taken more times over these past three weeks than at any other time in my life. At almost every roadblock checkpoint, drivers and passengers are required to wash their hands and get their temperature taken before proceeding.
I queried a guard recently at a UNICEF compound about the accuracy of the “point and click” laser temperature-taker that gets a reading from your forehead. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We only tell you to go to the hospital if the ‘gun’ makes a beeping noise.”
Fear of hospitals
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken 1,552 lives out of 3,069 known cases in four countries and “continues to accelerate”, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday. More than 20,000 people could become affected, WHO said.
Like many Sierra Leoneans, I’m afraid of going to the hospitals here. Despite the attention of international donors and government programs, the country’s health care hasn’t developed much since the end of the civil war in 2002. And now, the fear of Ebola is stopping people from seeking treatment for other ailments, wreaking even greater havoc on a country already in the midst of a public-health disaster.
Mary Alberta Camara is among the many young people who are unemployed after finishing her secondary-school diploma. She’s 25 years old and lives in a corrugated shelter in downtown Freetown. She recently had malaria but was afraid to go to the hospital, preferring to treat herself at home with over-the-counter anti-malaria medication.
“What if they mistake malaria for Ebola and send me to Kenema?,” she said. “What if they test me for Ebola and I have it? What if someone else at the hospital has Ebola and I might catch it from them?”
These are all reasonable fears given the current hysteria over health care in the country. So people stay away from clinics and hospitals: pregnant women, ailing elderly, parents with small children, diabetics and even Ebola patients.
Connaught Hospital, in the central and oldest part of Freetown, is not known for its hygiene or level of health care. But it’s usually full of nurses and patients, one of the busiest hospitals because of its downtown location and proximity to the morgue and nursing college.
This past weekend, when a high-level delegation from the United Nations and the WHO visited Connaught Hospital, only the pediatric ward housed any patients. The broken-down beds in other wards were eerily empty.
As the international officials crowded into the front entrance, nurses in starched uniforms clustered along the mouldy, poster-plastered walls. They explained they don’t have medical equipment, training or personal protective equipment and many of them are afraid to come to work for fear of contracting the Ebola virus.
For the nurses, death and disease are part of their jobs. But their jobs and circumstances have changed dramatically and now include the monster of the Ebola virus. The WHO officials appeared stoic but one could tell they were cringing inside as nurses related horror stories from the wards. The nurses were visibly afraid and spoke quickly and nervously.