Fear, hope mark life inside Ebola center in Sierra Leone: Witness

Tue Dec 9, 2014 6:22am EST
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By Benjamin Black

(Benjamin Black is a British doctor working as a volunteer with medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, the country now at the epicentre of the outbreak. In this first-hand account, he describes the challenges of working in an Ebola treatment center in West Africa, where the epidemic has killed more than 6,000 people.)

BO, Sierra Leone (Reuters) - It's moments like this that I fear most. A woman with Ebola is wandering around naked and screaming. A confused and potentially aggressive patient with a highly infectious, deadly disease -- separated from me only by my yellow protective bodysuit.

I heard the commotion while I was working with patients in the High Risk zone, the area of the treatment center reserved for confirmed Ebola cases. The screaming woman had left High Risk and was heading for the Low Risk zone where Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) staff do our paper work.

When I came outside, she lay down on the concrete floor under the glare of the scorching sun and rolled around moaning. She was not aggressive, just distressed.

With the help of a Sierra Leonean staff member, I protected her head from the hard, concrete floor and carried her to bed. It was hot work in our sweat-proof suits.

When I asked if she was in pain, she pointed to her chest, and said: "My father died, my mother died, my sister died, children died."

But I had nothing to cure a broken heart or a crushed soul -- only a gentle hand on her arm, a blanket and a sedative.   Continued...

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) health worker Benjamin Black is seen at an Ebola virus treatment centre in Bo December 9, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer