Ebola-Alarm in Freetown

Dr. Werner Strahl

For four months the dangerous virus has been spreading from the neighbouring Westafrican countries Guinea and Liberia into Sierra Leone. For a long time, the ministry of health and the government were only half-heartedly dedicated to fighting it, until this ebola epidemic has now turned out to be the biggest ever and many of those helping, including the highest epidemics expert of the country, got infected.

Our staff on the ground is relieved that finally a state of emergency has been called and that measures are taken as advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This means: border traffic has been stopped, infected people and their contacts are intensively searched for and isolated by police and health workers, limited travel into and from the most affected areas, implementation of special diagnostic laboratories, dedicated training of medical and care personnel in self-protection and how to protect other patients and their family members, provision of isolation rooms and clothing as well as disinfectants, informing the public and urgent warning to collaborate.

Because of the high death rate amongst infected people, the locals are unfortunately very reluctant to trust in medical personnel, which appears scary and threatening in its protective clothing, or to hand over sick children – even though they are generally suffering from other diseases which could be treated.

In the Ola During Children’s Hospital in Freetown, which is supported by us, our two paediatricians Dr. Noa Freudenthal und Dr. Sara Hommel as well as our technician and organiser Hassan Basm do their best to implement the required safety measures, to train and to control. All patients entering the  hospital grounds need to undergo a screening that includes being asked for their origin and contacts and having their temperature taken in order to estimate the risk that they pose. Suspected cases are isolated and a blood sample is taken for diagnosis in the reference laboratory. Luckily so for there has not been any confirmed case of ebola in our children’s hospital – and we’re happy to give it a pass.

In the Pikin Paddy, our nearby refuge for street kids, social worker Ole Hengelbrock is looking after the children entrusted to him, who are currently unable to attend school. Our two doctors have trained the social workers of the Pikin Paddy, according to the motto ‘teach the teachers’. Our social workers are now passing on this knowledge to staff, children, people in the neighbourhood and to other organisations. We invite them to come to us or we go and visit other areas. The aim is to communicate information and counter the fake and emotional stories about ebola that are circulating and thus reduce fears and panic. The team around social worker Ole Hengelbrock is always trying to sooth mistrust with responsibility and competence.

We are very grateful to our staff that they stand decidedly for the implementation of the WHO guidelines and thus not only help the people and the small patients but also meticulously take care of their own protection. As long as the risk is manageable and our staff is able to, they want to continue supporting the project. They are capable of assessing the situation and in daily contact with us. This way we can act immediately should the situation turn worse.

We keep close contact with them, who bolster the courage of the people there. We read scientific and medical information of the experts in tropical medicine who are involved and hope for the epidemic to end very soon. As currently no therapy is available and only a meticulous self-protection assures to stay safe, best wishes may be adequate here after all.

All the best,

Werner Strahl and the Cologne office.