I haven’t wanted to write about Ebola. In part, because I don’t want to add to the already rather loud and raucous hysteria.
But also because for some reason I think if I say the name I make it somehow more real, somehow closer to home.
The other night as I was tucking my son into bed, he began talking about a “disease from Africa that is really bad and so we’ve got to remember to wash our hands.” All true and all appropriate for his age. But I reminded him that we must wash our hands for more reasons than “this mystery disease out of Africa.” Enter sis, toothbrush in hand. “Is he talking about Ebola?” she asks, eyes huge and terror etching her brow. Somewhere, she is hearing the hysteria.
And so I launched into my mama-bear act. “Ebola is a disease we want to avoid, and yes, it is imperative that we wash our hands to protect us from all kinds of diseases, from the common cold to the flu. But here in the United States, we have very good doctors and lots of medical supplies to help people recover from Ebola. We have big drug companies who are working hard to find cures and vaccines. We are going to be fine.”
End of discussion.
Except for the ongoing discussion we’re having at Compassion Tea. The weekly prayers for our clinics in eastern and southern Africa, that Ebola doesn’t find its way to them, these speak to a very different reality. Western Africa, where Ebola is rampant currently, is not unlike eastern and southern Africa. There are parts of the entire continent where there is just not adequate healthcare. There aren’t enough doctors, medical supplies, surgical gloves, masks, medicines, sanitation, and ways to isolate. There isn’t enough knowledge and expertise, particularly in the rural parts of the continent.
In a recent USA Today article, Alimatu Sesay, a nurse at a government hospital in the northern city of Makeni, Sierra Leone, is quoted as saying, “We’re getting frustrated because we are not equipped to respond to cases…. When there is a suspected case, we have to send to Freetown for tests and when confirmed, send to Kenema for treatment. But by the time they reach the treatment center, they are already too weak to recover.”
This is in a city, at a government hospital. This is the best medical care Sierra Leone and its neighboring countries can provide.
According to the article: “While much of the fight against Ebola in West Africa focuses on highly populated cities, often overlooked are rural areas where inadequate infrastructure and health care fuel its spread. The lack of any medical facilities for hundreds of miles in these remote regions of Sierra Leone — like in neighboring Liberia and Guinea — is a main reason the country is failing to gain control of the crisis.”
One example of the troubles rural patients face is getting to adequate care. On Oct. 10, a group of infectious Ebola patients was being transferred for treatment from their rural village to a nearby government hospital in the northern region of Sierra Leone. The ambulance carrying them “overturned on a narrow, dirt road, injuring the driver and patients and exposing the area to the deadly virus.” The government hospital proved unable to deal with Ebola and the patients were then “placed back in a vehicle to be driven to a treatment center more than 100 miles away.”
In much of Africa, hospitals are not equipped to provide for more than the medical care of patients. Family members are usually expected to provide food and clothing and clean bedding. With Ebola patients having to travel hundreds of miles to find healthcare, another problem arises. “When our relatives are taken to the center in other areas there is no one to comfort and support them – a few days later they will tell us of their death,” said Mohamed Milton Koroma, vice president of the Makeni Union of Youth Groups.
While the lack of medical care is hampering any efforts to stop Ebola, the disease’s ravages are felt beyond the threat of the disease itself. Another USA Today article says this:
“As Ebola continues its rampage across Liberia and elsewhere in West Africa, thousands of children are taking a double hit: losing parents to the fatal virus and then being shunned by relatives who fear they will catch the disease.
The United Nations estimates the virus has orphaned nearly 4,000 children across the region, and that number could double in coming weeks. Aid groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, fear the orphans are at risk of starvation and disease.
The children also could pose a risk to others by spreading the disease if they are allowed to roam free without being tested for the virus.”
The article tells of the growth of child-headed households due to Ebola and the struggles these children face when grandparents and aunts and uncles walk out of their way to avoid being near the homes of Ebola victims. “I went to my relatives after my mother died, but they chased me away, even after I told them that I didn’t have Ebola,” said 12-year-old Frank Mulbah, whose mother died in Liberia in August.
“In Liberia, the hardest hit country, with nearly 1,000 deaths from Ebola as of last week, about half of all mothers in the country are raising their children alone because thousands of men died in a 1999-2003 civil war. So when these mothers catch Ebola and die, their children have nowhere to turn.
Frank, whose father died in the civil war, said he found no one to care for him — neither in northwest Liberia, where he lived before dropping out of school, nor… in the capital [Monrovia], where he traveled in a desperate search for food and shelter from relatives who refused to take him in…. Frank hopes his relatives will change their minds, but he isn’t hopeful. He tries not to think about getting home-cooked meals or an education.
‘I don’t know when I’ll go back to school,’ he said. ‘Right now I’m just looking for food and a place to live.’”
While CompassioNow doesn’t have the resources in place to currently aid with the medical crisis in western Africa, we are praying for an end to the crisis. And we are redoubling our efforts to support our clinics in eastern and southern Africa. Won’t you please join our efforts and our prayers!