There’s a double whammy facing residents in West Africa; not only are they experiencing the worst Ebola outbreak on record, but they also are dealing with the rainy season and the resulting malaria. The most severe outbreak of Ebola is in Sierra Leone, but malaria-stricken natives are frightened of hospitals because of the Ebola outbreak.
Cyprien Fabre, head of the West Africa office of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department, admitted that the natives are caught between a rock and a hard place; the symptoms of Ebola, malaria, and cholera are similar, such as fever and vomiting. Thus if someone has malaria, they don’t want to go to the hospital, but they also feel that if they have the deadly Ebola virus, there is also no use going.
Fabre continued, “We now have increased mortality for these other diseases” as well. “This is a slow-motion disaster… It’s far from being over. We are still behind the epidemic spreading.”
Fabre noted that Sierra Leone has the world’s highest rate of child and maternal mortality. The World Health Organization stated that Ebola has killed 932 people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone since March, with a whopping 45 deaths in the three days from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4.
Ibrahim Kalokoh, a 34-year old disc jockey, said, “I’m afraid of going to the hospital because if they don’t tell you about having Ebola, it will be something else that will break your heart. If I am experiencing malaria symptoms, I would rather rush to a pharmacy and buy drugs than go to the hospital. Right now, going to the hospital is the worst you can suggest to me, with all the Ebola noise around.”
Health workers leery of the disease are less willing to treat it, according to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who added, “Health-care practitioners are afraid to accept new patients, especially in community clinics all across the country. Consequently, many common diseases which are especially prevalent during the rainy season, such as malaria, typhoid and common cold, are going untreated and may lead to unnecessary and preventable deaths.”
The Ebola virus is contracted through direct contact with bodily fluids from someone who already has it. The best hope for victims is that their own immune system will defeat it.
In Freetown, buckets of chlorine and water have been ubiquitous in order for people to wash their hands. Religious leaders are warning their constituents to avoid touching and clustering.
Ernest Gaie, country director in Liberia for the Washington, D.C.-based charity Africare, said that in his country there is a shortage of protective equipment for health workers. He added that some hospitals are short of workers. Gaie said protective gear ”would help these lives and help regain the confidence that the health workers have lost. Unless the health workers are in those facilities, I’m sorry, the families are not going to take people who are showing symptoms there.”