21 July 2014

As Ebola outbreak worsens, doctors battle with beliefs and shortages

Mothers and their children sit for medical check-ups at SOS Medical Centre Monrovia, in Liberia. Photo: Christian Lesske


SOS Children’s Villages programmes continue efforts to raise awareness and battle the spread of the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. So far, there have been no reported cases in SOS facilities.


21 July 2014 - There is no cure for the Ebola virus, but education and careful hygiene can stop it from spreading. Unfortunately, in parts of West Africa where dozens have died from Ebola in the last couple weeks, many people are not convinced there is a real danger, according to Simon Tokpohozin, who works for the National Office of SOS Children’s Villages Liberia.
 
“Many people still believe the outbreak is not real, so they are not observing the minimum preventive measures that have been advised. People are hiding their sick relatives in their homes or taking them to the traditional doctors (‘fetishes-men’) or to pastors. As a consequence, not only the sick persons are dying, but also the traditional doctors, the pastors and those helpers who assist them in their homes and prayer-centres.”

Convincing people Ebola is a real danger is not the only problem. Liberia also lacks protective gear needed to safely treat those infected without great risk of contagion to medical staff. Mr Tokpohozin said many health centres and hospitals had closed because they lack adequate protective gear, or the workers themselves refuse to report to work without protection.

With over 630 confirmed deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since February 2014, the current outbreak is the worst known since Ebola was first identified in 1976. It spreads among humans through direct contact with blood, saliva and other body fluids, and can cause quick onset of vomiting, diarrhoea, skin rash, organ failures, and internal and external bleeding as well. It is highly contagious and fatal to 50-90% of those who become infected.

SOS Children's Villages staff are taking strict precautionary measures to ensure that visitors and residents understand how the infection is spread, observe hygiene, and recognise its early symptoms; a reporter from All Africa who visited the SOS Children's Village in Monrovia last week found that people coming and going from the village were made to wash their hands in an anti-bacterial solution.

The SOS Medical Centre Monrovia is also regarded locally as the facility best prepared to manage the outbreak.

“On 15 July a special team from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare came to our SOS Medical Centre to congratulate us for the pragmatic, professional and technical ways we are handling the situation, and they commended us for the steps we are taking to prevent the spread of the disease and increase public awareness," Mr Tokpohozin said.


Locals regard the SOS Medical Centre Monrovia as the medical facility best prepared to deal with suspected Ebola cases. Photo: Christian Lesske.
SOS Children’s Villages has been in contact with Doctors Without Borders in Liberia to seek their assistance with fast track procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical workers in the communities, and a possible partnership in Ebola case management.


People move faster than knowledge
 
Sierra Leone has had the most confirmed cases of Ebola so far, with 442 reported cases and 206 confirmed deaths since February. While the national media are working to educate the population about prevention, the virus is spreading faster, because people are traveling freely all around within Sierra Leone, says the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Sierra Leone, Olatungie Emmanuel Ekundayo Woode.
 
“The biggest concern is the fact that suspected Ebola patients are leaving hospitals and fleeing to other areas, thereby increasing the risk of spreading the disease even more,” Mr Woode said.
 
On July 10, leaders from the member states of the Economic Community of West African States called for “urgent” international help to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa. They also cautioned citizens to stay calm but cautious, and to take every hygienic precaution.

The SOS Children’s Villages programmes in West Africa have been conducting awareness and education programmes with the help of Ministry of Health and Sanitation experts. In addition, SOS children, students and staff wash their hands regularly with chlorine, disinfectants and mountable hand sanitisers – the very first precautions advised by health experts.