Via The Lancet, an obituary: Sheik Humarr Khan. Excerpt:
Virologist and expert in viral haemorrhagic fevers who led Sierra Leone's Ebola response. He was born in Lungi, Sierra Leone, on March 6, 1975, and died from Ebola in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, on July 29, 2014, aged 39 years.
The day before he was scheduled to sit some secondary school exams, Sheik Humarr Khan read an obituary in a local newspaper. A German doctor who had come to Sierra Leone to help treat people with Lassa fever had contracted the disease and died. Alhajie Khan said his brother, who was then 15 years old, showed the clipping to his friends. His brother recalls how Sheik Humarr Khan told them, “This is very important. This German doctor came here to help. I’m going to try to be a doctor, as well.”
He succeeded, qualifying in medicine and surgery from the University of Sierra Leone's College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences in 2001 and ultimately becoming one of West Africa's leading virologists. He was the Physician-in-Charge of Kenema Government Hospital's Lassa Fever Programme when he died.
Earlier this year, the Sierra Leone Government asked Khan to help lead the country's response to the Ebola outbreak. Alhajie Khan said his brother was not scared of the assignment. “He was just doing the work he always wanted to do”, he says. Although Sheik Humarr Khan did mention in the emails he sent to his family that he was worried an undiagnosed patient might come to the hospital where he was working in Kenema in eastern Sierra Leone and unknowingly spread the disease.
In July, Khan began to show symptoms of Ebola and a week later he was admitted to a treatment centre. Some controversy has surrounded his death because of news that a team of doctors opted not to give Khan an untested, experimental Ebola drug. His medical team from Médecins Sans Frontières determined that the risks of administering the drug outweighed any potential benefit. Their decision came weeks before WHO decided it was ethical to use unproven interventions in the outbreak.
After Khan died on July 29, Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma declared him a national hero and praised him for saving the lives of more than 100 Ebola patients. A new viral haemorrhagic centre in Kenema will be named in Khan's honour.
Khan was an obvious choice to help lead the fight against Ebola's spread in the region. After working as a medical officer at the national Directorate of Disease Prevention and Control in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Freetown, he was recruited in 2005 to become the Physician-in-Charge at the Lassa Fever Programme at Kenema Government Hospital.
It was an early example of his bravery. His immediate predecessor, Aniru Conteh, a Sierra Leonean physician, had contracted Lassa fever and died. Khan was enlisted because “he was highly committed to doing something about Lassa fever in his country”, said his frequent collaborator Robert Garry, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Tulane University School of Medicine. “He was committed to trying to bring it under control.”