Via The Guardian, health editor Sarah Boseley writes day 5 of her Ebola diary: Malaria medicine delivered under darkness. Excerpt (but read the whole fascinating report):
It’s 4.30am, black as pitch, and we are driving in a six-vehicle convoy through the streets of Monrovia, Liberia, stopping at the regular police checkpoints enforcing the curfew and switching on the light inside the car so our faces can be seen.
When we reach the heart of Westpoint, a township that is one of the poorest areas of the city, 50 or more women and girls are already queuing along one side of the muddy space called the football field. They are caught in the powerful headlamps of the jeeps and pick-up trucks, which manoeuvre into position so they can help proceedings but also make a fast exit if things get out of hand.
Médecins sans Frontières is about to distribute malaria tablets to more than 2400 families living in the close, and these days dangerous, conditions of Westpoint. It is a humanitarian exercise which feels like a military intervention. The enemy is Ebola. The danger is that some of the women the medical charity wants to help could have the virus and spread contagion. Crowds are high risk – in fact gatherings are banned by presidential decree.
In a community where everybody wants medicine and hospitals are closed for normal business, there is huge potential danger in a surging throng. We are there in the early hours so that most people are still asleep – though the women have been queueing since 4am.
Malaria kills more people than Ebola, and particularly pregnant women and small children. But now it poses an additional threat. The symptoms are identical to Ebola – fever, headache, vomiting. That means there is a risk somebody suffering from malaria will end up in an isolation unit, where they may pick up the lethal virus from those who really do have it. And even suspects who are subsequently cleared can be stigmatised and shunned afterwards in their communities.