Via The Star, an excellent report by Jennifer Yang: In Sierra Leone, an exhausting struggle to contain Ebola. Excerpt:
KAILAHUN, SIERRA LEONE—The day shift at the Ebola treatment centre has barely begun when a nurse runs up to Ewenn Chenard to announce the first corpse of the day.
Chenard’s team is responsible for removing bodies from the isolation ward and the nurse stretches out her forearm, showing him the “212” she has written haphazardly on her skin. “C3. Ten years. OK?”
Such numbers and letters have become the language of death at the Médecins Sans Frontières treatment centre in Kailahun district, the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. “212” is the patient’s identification number; “C3” is the tent where Chenard will find the corpse; “ten years” — the patient’s age. Chenard will need a child-sized body bag.
Patient 212’s name is Jimmy and he is the 90th death at this centre since it opened seven weeks ago. He will not be buried today because there are already nine bodies in the morgue — one has been rotting for four days. “That is a problem,” says Sebastian Stein, who works with Chenard. “Not enough burial teams.”
This is the reality of fighting this Ebola outbreak. Too many patients, too many bodies, and not nearly enough money, people, chlorine or even ambulances to stop the dying. Last week, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
There is no great mystery in containing an Ebola outbreak; every flare-up since 1976 has been successfully quelled. But this time, the virus has slithered into a new part of Africa, gaining a foothold in large cities. Now more than 1,800 infections have been reported in four West African countries, including in their capitals; in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, there are at least 11 cases, but a treatment centre has yet to open.
This outbreak has also been a disaster of poverty, emerging in some of the world’s poorest nations.
Forty per cent of the total reported cases in this outbreak have been in Sierra Leone. Among the affected countries, it is the worst off by nearly every development measure, ranking 183 out of 187 on the Human Development Index with more than half its population living below the poverty line.
With the arrival of Ebola, an already weak health system is now buckling. “The system’s already stretched to the limit,” said Dr. Jacob Mufunda, the country’s WHO representative. “(We need) surge capacity. Not for three weeks — six months to one year, from other countries.”
If the world hadn’t noticed Sierra Leone’s struggles before, it certainly does now. Unless Ebola is defeated in the West African villages and cities seeding the outbreak, the virus will continue to be an international threat; it has already brought patients to hospitals in Spain and the United States and caused scares as close to home as Brampton.