The number of Ebola cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia could increase “to between 550,000 to 1.4 million by January,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.
Ishmail Sillah, a nursing graduate student, already understands Ebola’s continuing devastation in his home country of Sierra Leone.
“It’s just very sad for me,” Sillah said. “I love my home, and I’m in school because I want to serve in my home where I see so much need.”
On Sept. 16, President Barack Obama announced his plan to combat the spread of the deadly Ebola virus by sending 3,000 troops to West Africa. This past weekend, Sierra Leone issued a countrywide lockdown for officials to identify Ebola patients and take away dead bodies.
Today, there are serious concerns about the Ebola virus, which, according to Dr. John Po, associate program director for the infectious disease fellowship at the College of Medicine — Tucson, has an over 50 percent death rate and is transmitted by bodily fluids.
To understand an infectious disease, we need to look at the agent itself, the people and the environment, said Eyal Oren, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
Po said before this current epidemic, the Ebola virus was more commonly found in the sub-Saharan regions of Africa and was rarely seen in West Africa. The time between contracting the Ebola virus and showing symptoms is between two to 21 days.
“The first symptoms are flu-like: fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, muscle and joint pain,” Po said. “[It’s] practically indistinguishable from the flu.”
A few days after, the illness transitions into its bleeding phase.
“At this point, a person bleeds from every orifice,” Po said.
Handling the dead body of an Ebola victim comes with the risk of infection from blood teeming with the virus.
The three major countries afflicted by the current Ebola epidemic are Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, according to the World Health Organization. As of Tuesday, WHO estimates the total number of Ebola cases is around 5,800 and 2,800 have died from the disease.
“In the rural parts of Sierra Leone, it is common to see five to six families in one house and a day-to-day lifestyle,” said Foday Yokie, a Sierra Leonean parliament member for the Bo District. Prior to the outbreak, most Sierra Leoneans were uneducated about Ebola, Po said. This and the close contact of people may have caused the initial spread of the disease, but now there is a stigma associated with the virus, Yokie said.
“People are afraid of being identified because they will be quarantined,” Yokie said. “This restricts them from leaving to make money or get food or water.”
Sierra Leone only has four hospitals.
“This is a huge eye-opener to Sierra Leone,” said Juliet Laverley Amabebe, executive director of Parene Healthcare, an agency that aims to improve the country’s health infrastructure. “We need a lot of infrastructural changes.”
Lack of health literacy, limited resources, the inherent dangers of the virus, a threatening stigma, delayed global health response and other factors comprise what Oren calls a “perfect storm.”
Sillah said he only wishes to help serve his home country and be seen as a facilitator that connects and educates Tucson about Sierra Leone’s current struggle.
“That sense of awareness promotes a desire to want to reach out,” Sillah said, “so that something within us can drive action.”
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