Worldwide Healing Hands has been forced to make the difficult decision of postponing its trip to Sierra Leone due to the latest outbreak of the Ebola Virus. This outbreak has been described as the most deadly wave of the virus since its first appearance in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
According to the World Health Organization, certain kinds of fruit bats are thought to be the natural host of the virus, with the initial transmission resulting from a wild animal infecting a human. Once the disease infects a person, it is easily transmissible between people in close contact. The virus spreads by direct contact with bodily fluids, and often moves more rapidly in remote areas.
There is no vaccine or cure for the Ebola virus, and it kills up to 90% of its victims. According to the Centers for Disease Control, doctors can only offer “supportive therapy” to patients with Ebola, and isolate the patient so that he or she cannot infect others. Initial symptoms of the Ebola virus include fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, lack of appetite, and sore throat. Advanced symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and both internal and external bleeding – often from the eyes, nose, or mouth.
In the 1976 outbreak, the Ebola virus killed more than 400 people. The latest outbreak has infected 1,600 people and killed over 800 people and it has spread across four West African nations including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, which has the highest number of Ebola cases.
The intensity of this outbreak is placing a great strain on the already unstable health systems of Africa’s poorest countries and the health professionals who try to combat the outbreak are being confronted with increasing suspicion and doubt from the Ebola patients and their families. In fact, many of the people in Sierra Leone have more faith in traditional medicine and as a result are hindering efforts to contain the outbreak by gathering outside clinics and hospitals and protesting what they believe to be a conspiracy. Some have even gone as far as threatening to burn down buildings and remove the sick patients from hospitals to carry out traditional funerals which often involve manual washing of the body instead of allowing the officials to bury them safely. These types of burial ceremonies in which the mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola virus, which is highly contagious and still spreading.
Not only are health professionals being confronted with suspicion and mistrust, they are also putting themselves at great risk trying to contain the outbreak. The disease has killed one of Liberia’s top Ebola doctors and two of his nurses and it has infected two Americans combating the outbreak. Due to the deadly risks facing health professionals, it has been determined that a trip to Sierra Leone is too dangerous at this time. It is with great regret that Worldwide Healing Hands postpones its trip to Sierra Leone.
by Meghan McCurry