Via the Daily Observer: Ebola: Fixing the Fear Factor. Excerpt from a long, thoughtful, and informative article:
In Montserrado County, the Redemption Hospital has been overwhelmed with numerous suspected Ebola cases, which include patients, nurses and doctors. Last week, the hospital was the scene of an angry mob of hundreds of people demanding the body of a pregnant woman who had died there showing symptoms of Ebola. Authorities at the facility were forced to lock themselves in and request police backup.
In Bong County, the Phebe and C. B. Dunbar Maternity Hospitals have been abandoned by health workers who say they will not return to work without protective equipment, Daily Observer Bong County correspondent Marcus Malayea reported. Up to Tuesday, July 29, security officers at Dunbar Maternity were seen turning away pregnant women who showed up expecting neonatal care.
Also, the government hospital in Tubmanburg, Bomi County was reported abandoned in the wake of the Ebola-positive diagnosis of the entire family of Mr. Sando Sirleaf, a top healthcare official of that county. Health workers and patients alike have since abandoned that hospital in fear and for lack of protective gear. Sirleaf’s son, Sando, Jr., who is also a health worker and heads the Gayah Hill Health Center, tested positive.
Sick, scared, skeptical
This is not good news. The Daily Observer fielded a question on Facebook about whether anyone in Liberia in need of medical help would seek treatment at any hospital here, given the prevailing situation. The general consensus was a resounding ‘NO’, because of safety concerns, or who to trust.
One respondent aptly said: “When healthcare workers and disease control experts cannot protect themselves, it is not reasonable to expect the public to have confidence in seeking relief from health care facilities.”
Another with a dissenting view asked, “If you fell victim to Ebola would you have a choice of hospital?”
Rev. John Sumo, Director for Health Promotion at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, believes the fear and skepticism comes from misconceptions about the Ebola virus and how suspected and positive cases should be handled.
According to him, if it isn’t the fearsome perception of certain death that keeps suspected ebola patients away, it might also be the stigma behind the very terminology such as ‘isolation’ or ‘quarantine’, used by health workers in their treatment of ebola related cases. “So we have renamed the isolation areas as ‘treatment units’,” Sumo explains, “because even though we have to contain the ebola cases, they are still getting the proper care from doctors and health workers.”
Another major challenge in responding to ebola cases is the burial of infected persons who have expired. “Someone who has died from Ebola must be buried immediately,” Sumo says.
“Yet some families are defiant and make away with the infected corpse and before we can find them, they have washed and dressed it for a traditional burial. We know that bagging the body goes against our normal way of burying the dead in Liberia, but a traditional burial is also a key way to spread the virus, especially since washing the corpse puts people in contact with the contaminated fluids that come from it.”
And as if that weren’t enough, Sumo agrees one cannot ignore the allegations of ebola infected corpses being stripped of kidneys, hearts and other organs before burial.
Dr. Bernice Dahn, Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, asserted earlier this week that “people are just afraid” and are “making the wrong decisions by refusing to go to the health facilities.”