Thanks to Lucie Lecomte for sending the link to this report in Bloomberg Businessweek: Mali Nurse Braves Neighbors’ Stoning to Battle Ebola. Excerpt:
“Rita has Ebola!” her neighbors chanted as they gathered at her front door after they learned that two patients at the clinic where she worked in the Malian capital, Bamako, died of the disease.
“The neighbors and some kids came after me and threw stones and handfuls of sand,” Rita, who asked that her last name not be used, said in an interview. While Rita, 38, never was in contact with either patient stricken down by the virus at Bamako’s Pasteur Clinic, she hid in her house for two days before an ambulance came to her rescue, she said.
Mali’s nurses and doctors are facing the stigma tied to Ebola that made medical workers targets in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three nations hardest hit by the virus. Misinformation about how the disease spreads and fear about being isolated have hampered efforts to recruit workers. In the U.S., President Barack Obama has encouraged volunteers to travel to West Africa, while putting in place steps to ease concern returning workers may spread the disease.
The United Nations has begged for more doctors and nurses to help contain Ebola in the region, where there have been more than 14,000 cases and at least 5,170 have died. Health workers are the most at risk of getting the disease because they can more easily come into contact with infected bodily fluids. Ebola has killed more than half of the about 500 physicians who got it in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since December.
With five confirmed deaths from the disease, Mali, with about one doctor for every 10,000 people compared with 24 in the U.S., according to 2010 data from the World Bank, has managed to control the spread of the virus since the first case was reported on Oct. 23. That’s done little to ease the fear in Bamako.
About 30 people are in quarantine at the Pasteur Clinic until Dec. 2 following the death last week of the nurse who treated a 70-year-old grand imam from Guinea who died on Oct. 27. He wasn’t tested for Ebola.
“Several of our doctors’ children don’t go to school anymore,” said Dramane Maiga, the director of the Pasteur Clinic. “There is a panic among the clinic workers’ families and relatives. People insult them, close relatives are distant. Even spouses and husbands are panicking.”
The governments of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are working with the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, to educate people about how Ebola spreads.
In Bamako, another nurse at the Pasteur clinic decided to confront the issue head on when harassment by students at her daughter’s school forced her to run home.
“I decided we would both go back to school and explain that we are not Ebola contaminated just by the fact that I work at the clinic,” said Jeanne, who like Rita asked that her last name be withheld. “The director understood and informed the students. The situation is still complicated, but at least my daughter can go to school now.”