In Sierra Leone’s Kailahun province, the world’s largest Ebola outbreak continues to spread through remote villages. One of the few lines of defence comes from a treatment centre run by the charity Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF).
While there is no specific cure for the disease, treatment of its symptoms can significantly reduce its fatality rate. With an overstreched team and a series of logisitical obstacles inherent in treating a contagious virus in a remote location, the centre is doing what it can.
“It’s promising to see that the limited amount of things we can do is having such a major effect,” says MSF’s Dr Tim Jagatic. “We’re bringing down the mortality rate significantly”. About four out of 10 patients at the center will survive, he says. A huge improvement from the 10 percent survivial rate in previous outbreaks.
But one crucial problem remains – the chronic fear of hospitals, fuelled by rumours of limb harvesting and blood theft, is dissuading people from seeking medical help.
Not only does this increase the risk of death, but by keeping infected people in the community, and burying the bodies without professional medical assistance, it also exacerbates the spread of the disease.
Teams of Red Cross volunteers are doing their best to teach people to recognise and respect the danger posed by Ebola. But in a district with nearly half a million people, there are still many villages yet to be reached. Others hear the message but are reluctant to accept it.
Winning the trust of the community is key to ending the current outbreak. But it takes time and resources that the on-the-ground doesn’t possess. “We are running behind Ebola,” according to Anja Wolz, head of MSF’s activities in Kailahun. “I’ve never seen this before.”