DAKAR, Senegal — With 964 total victims and 603 confirmed deaths, the Ebola virus continues to surge through the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The outbreak originated in Guinea and has rapidly spread in Sierra Leone and Liberia, triggering concern and fear.
Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, said the virus is now “out of control” and officials are trying new methods for controlling the outbreak.
Isolation camps, hand washing stations, and protective wear are among the precautions being taken in Guinea.
“There have been banks and other public locations that are setting up buckets with chlorine water,” Pedro Ronaldo,* a Christian worker in Guinea, said. “If I want to go to the bank I have to wash my hands before going into the bank. The same thing happens in some public health clinics and other public areas.”
A major contribution to the rapid spread of the virus is cultural practices, including funeral rituals and traditional healers. Burial ceremonies often include a ritual washing of the corpse, which can spread the virus through body fluids.
Christian worker and medical professional Sam Gardner,* who lives in Guinea, says there is a lot of fear and misunderstanding when it comes to general knowledge of the Ebola virus.
Guineans fear “anything unknown,” Gardner said. “… Malaria is going to kill more people than Ebola is going to, but they know malaria. This is something they do not know and they’re afraid of it.”
Patients are not seeing medical officials out of fear and misinformation.
“In Guinea, for example, they had a … misconception about what the doctors were doing,” Rebecca Waters,* a Christian worker in Liberia who travels extensively in West Africa, said. “So in one area they chased the doctors away and they began keeping it a secret when their people became sick.”
A shared sentiment by those living in these countries is that there needs to be an emphasis on education.
Waters said she is focusing on teaching the locals and volunteers more about the disease and how to take precautions.
“You will not be infected unless you touch a person who is at the physical height of the illness,” Waters said. “So you don’t go to funerals. You don’t touch the body. Some people will wear masks if they know they’re going to be in an area where there’s an epidemic.”
One growing concern with this outbreak is that the virus has made its way into urban areas in West Africa, where millions live in close proximity, providing an ample opportunity for contamination.
Experts working in West Africa have seen an increase in survivors if they receive early treatment.
Saa Sabas, an Ebola survivor from southern Guinea, contracted the virus while caring for his father, who was infected. When his first fever hit, he traveled to the treatment center, where he was monitored and given fluids to keep him hydrated.
Sabas now volunteers for the Red Cross and travels among communities, raising awareness of early treatment.
“There’s going to have to be some trust developed between those who are trying to stop the Ebola virus and the [civilians],” Waters said. “Until that trust is developed it’s going to be very hard to control this disease.”
by Paige Ryder and Evelyn Adamson | BP