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West Africa: Early treatment brings light to Ebola gloom (IRIN)

More than 1,400 have died as a result of the Ebola crisis in West Africa since the disease was first recorded in March of this year. But although medical scientists have not yet identified a cure, some of those who sought treatment early have recovered from the virus.

Current Ebola treatments mainly relieve the symptoms. They ease the headaches, fever and muscle pains triggered by the virus, and cope with the vomiting and diarrhoea.

Julie Damond is the spokesperson for Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, in West Africa. She says, “We can’t do anything else because there is no treatment for the virus. The only thing we can do is help the body fight the virus and develop immunity.”

A patient’s body can sometimes rebuild its defences and restore health. According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, nearly half of the patients in the current West African outbreak have recovered.

It’s not clear why some people die and others recover. Ms. Damond says, “It is impossible to know when a patient is admitted whether they will recover or not. It’s not about age or gender.” But it appears that the earlier the disease is tackled, the better the chance of surviving.

Those who are most at risk of contracting Ebola are the doctors and nurses who treat patients, and the families who look after sick relatives at home. More than 120 health workers in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have died of Ebola during the current outbreak, according to WHO.

These deaths have caused panic, causing the already weak health systems in the area to become more dysfunctional than ever. Some families are shunning hospitals, seeing danger rather than an offer of help. Liberia and Sierra Leone have declared the outbreak a national emergency and are using quarantine measures to prevent further spread. It is now illegal to keep Ebola patients away from treatment centres in Sierra Leone.

Distrust of governments and public institutions is difficult to overcome. But, while Ebola is a serious and often fatal disease, some people have returned to their communities after completely recovering in treatment centres.

The stories of patients who have recovered from Ebola may offer hope and bolster trust in conventional medical approaches to the disease, and the preventive measures that aim to avoid risky exposure to Ebola patients.

Melvin Korkor is a 44-year-old Liberian doctor who recently recovered from Ebola. Dr. Korkor tested positive for Ebola in July. He and five nurses were transferred to the capital, Monrovia, for treatment. Unfortunately, all his colleagues died.

Dr. Korkor says: “[I received] the same treatment that was given to the other Ebola patients. There was no special treatment because I am a doctor… [but] today I am back home and reunited with my family.”

When Dr. Korkor returned to his community, some of his neighbours were afraid to go near him. But Larry Tonnie is one neighbour who is encouraged by the doctor’s recovery. He says, “We are glad to have him back. Now we know that there are people who can get cured of Ebola once you check yourself in on time.”

MSF spokeswoman, Ms. Damond, says, “What we have seen in this outbreak is that when people come early to be treated, they have a better chance of surviving. This is a message we are trying to get out there so that people understand.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Silver lining in Ebola gloom, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/report/100540/silver-lining-in-ebola-gloom

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