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Ebola Deaths Escalating

The first two deaths from the Ebola virus occurred in Waterloo on the 25th August. Three weeks on, the number had risen to 60.

Now, only 30 days after the first cases, the toll has reached about 130: in other words, it has doubled in the last week, despite the heroic efforts of WPSL and other local partners to deliver health education and provide infection control supplies to slow the spread of this modern plague.

It is hard to imagine the fear and distress experienced by victims, and by the families, health workers and others who witness rapid and painful deaths from the virus. An acute shortage of specialist beds is exacerbating the situation: there are only 13 even at the main Connaught Hospital in Freetown. On Monday a teenager wrote on Facebook: “Souls are crying 4 medical attention but there is no space in the hospital 4 sick people.. we took my uncle to ‘Four-mile’ hospital no space, they send us to Waterloo no space too. My God what are we going to do, they said we should keep sick people at home. I’m worry about what will be next“.

The Community Health Officer updates us daily via Badara, the WPSL Chair, and the news is grim. In the run down area of Mango Farm, near the new lorry park in Waterloo, 17 deaths occurred just in the few days since the start of last weekend’s ‘lockdown’. Overnight we heard of 18 more, a large number in Moriba, near our friend Mahmoud Conteh’s quarantined garage. And the sixty or so people in a large family compound near Nelson Mandela School have to start the 21 day quarantine process again from scratch, after losing two more relatives.

With WPSL and our other partners, CODEP and Build on Books, we believe that there is still an urgent need to continue ‘sensitising’ the community, to educate, and to dispel ‘folklore’ and myths about Ebola. In a small settlement outside Waterloo, a ‘quack’ doctor recently ‘treated’ two Ebola patients, who both later died. It is hard to believe, but the ‘quack’ then went on into other homes, giving ‘injections’ and performing circumcisions: he is now infected himself and the whole community is in quarantine.

Most people in Sierra Leone still live on $1 per day, earning today what they will eat tomorrow, with no electricity for refrigeration, and food is bought daily at market; so quarantine is impossibly difficult for them. Experience during the last few weeks has shown that people are willing to co-operate, and tolerate the imposition of strict quarantine for 21 days, if they have the reassurance they are going to be provided with basic foodstuffs. WPSL and our partners have been providing the food and bottled water for delivery by health workers to those in quarantine; but the number of recipients will of course rise sharply as the number of quarantined contacts increases with increased mortality.

Fortunately, there has been some GOOD NEWS this week, thanks to the initiative of Lori from Build on Books in contacting the World Food Programme, which quickly made some limited deliveries near Waterloo. It is a relief that a large international organisation is now going to be providing food; but in a fluid situation there are bound to be ‘gaps’ in distribution, and WPSL will have a role in ‘plugging’ them.