Sierra Leone Video Diary: Ebola Outbreak
In early June 2014, The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone was part of a major health campaign, distributing 350,000 insecticide treated bed nets, through the Imagine No Malaria program. Learn more at http://www.umc.org/sierra-leone-nets. While managing the campaign, the church was also contending with the outbreak of a deadly virus: Ebola. A team of United Methodists ventured into the virus-stricken area to bring back the latest news and recommendations to their churches and hospitals in the country.
(Kenema, Sierra Leone)
Dr. Robert Garry: “This is a major outbreak of a strain of Ebola Virus that in some outbreaks has killed up to 90 percent of the people that it infects.”
Dr. Robert Garry is at the epicenter of a very contagious and very deadly disease in Sierra Leone: Ebola. And there is no cure.
Dr. Robert Garry, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Tulane Medical School: “Ebola virus in particular will replicate in a lot of cells in your body. It causes damage and destruction, mostly the damage is to your blood vessels. So, it basically makes them permeable. That’s why organ systems break down, that’s why you get bleeding in the skin or from the mouth or the eyes. So, it basically just takes over many, many cells in your body and it replicates so fast that your immune system can’t combat it; it can’t stop it from spreading.”
The virus is originally spread by animals…particularly monkeys, chimpanzees and bats, which are sometimes part of a West African diet. Once a human contracts the disease, it can spread easily by the exchange of body fluids. Ebola was first discovered in Congo in 1976 and before now has never been diagnosed in this part of the continent.
Dr. Robert Garry: "It has been diverging, so it’s been here in the Guinean rainforest for probably over 100 years. Now, that rainforest covers a lot of Guinea, the eastern part of Guinea, it comes down to the Kenema District here and over to Liberia, and that’s where all the cases have been so far."
Dr. Amara Jambai, Disease Prevention and Control, Ministry of Health, Sierra Leone: “It’s like a triangle --and boop, right in the middle of nowhere, the bush. It’s a rain-forested area, the disease occurred (in). It went to Liberia, it went to Guinea...hey I mean, we are the same, the same people.”
The Sierra Leone government is working closely with Robert Garry and his team to stop the disease in its tracks. The data collection and laboratory work are occurring here at Kenema Government Hospital, where all suspected cases are analyzed and patients are being treated. International partners are beginning to arrive on the scene.
(Dr. Garry to woman) “It infected in Daru with contact with a patient, went back to her village and died in Jalo.”
Temporary measures are in place for a possible influx of new patients.
Dr. Robert Garry: “This is a tent that was donated by Medicens Sans Frontiers, Doctors Without Borders, for Ebola virus patients. The structure that is being built is to basically isolate and protect the tent. We don’t want people coming into the tent so its going to isolate it. So there will also be an area for the health care workers to suit up in their personal protective equipment before they go in to treat the Ebola virus patients.”
Health care workers are at the very high risk of contracting the disease. That’s why 50 miles away, staff of the United Methodist Mercy Hospital in Bo gather to discuss an emergency preparedness plan.
Rashid Ansumana, Research Scientist, Mercy Hospital, Bo, Sierra Leone: “How do we protect ourselves? Number one, we have to presume that every subject we see here has Ebola and protect ourselves appropriately.”
The staff learns that gloves, gowns, and other personal protective equipment are their best defense.
Beatrice Gbanga, Medical Coordinator Sierra Leone Annual Conference: “There is a sense of fear. We don’t want them to panic, but fear is necessary because if fear is not there they may not take steps to protect themselves from being infected.”
Dr. Amara Jambai: “We need to make sure that this disease stays in the locality where it is and does not spread.”
Right now Ebola is in only one corner of the nation. Should it spread to major cities like Bo and Freetown, its contagious nature could be catastrophic. The government and The United Methodist Church have stepped up the information campaign. But it’s impossible to quarantine a whole region.
Dr. Amara Jambai: “For many people, at least in some of our villages, there is like an enigma, 'No it doesn’t exist" and when that is, it’s always difficult to overcome.”
Nurses caring for the Ebola patients in the government hospital stress that knowledge is power.
Veronica Koroma, Nurse, Kenema Government Hospital, Sierra Leone: “We are really working very hard and we want God’s intervention for us to have survivors.”
This story was first posted on June 9, 2014.