Sky Witnesses Horrors Of Ebola In Sierra Leone

The health facilities in remote parts of Sierra Leone are barely functioning with no concrete sign that the Ebola virus has been beaten.

In parts of the country like Kono district on the eastern border with Guinea, the people are feeling desperate and, in many cases, forgotten.

Until this week, Kono has no ebola treatment centre or testing facilities of its own. That meant that those suspected of contracting the virus had to travel several hours to neighbouring Kenema district for medical help – or even confirmation of the deadly disease. It is impossible to know how many people could have been infected or died en route.

Now though, there is a 48-bed facility near Koidu, the Kono district capital, and a testing laboratory will mean those with worrying symptoms can be diagnosed within five to six hours.

It should make an enormous difference but the delay is probably responsible for the latest outbreak of fresh cases (although sadly for Sierra Leoneans this is not confined to Kono).

The latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that there were nearly 600 confirmed Ebola cases in the country in the two weeks up until the end of the first week of January, more than double the numbers in Guinea and Liberia combined.

The AmiraNews team travelled the nine-hour journey to Kono district and discovered frantic work being done by WHO and UN aid agencies to shore up the health facilities but for many in the area, it is help which has come too late.

At Kono district hospital in Koidu, we found few nursing staff and few patients: everyone is too scared to go to the hospital or fear of catching the disease.

Two nursing staff in the maternity ward alone have died in the past week and we found few medical supplies and little protective clothing available to those staff who are still going to work.

In the 185-bed hospital, only fifteen patients are being treated and those we spoke to complained the nurses would not tend to them.

Almost as soon as we entered the hospital we found the corpse of a man laying on the floor of an empty ward.

We were told by other patients he had arrived at the hospital five days earlier but the staff suspected he had Ebola and he was directed to an empty ward and left there.

He lay there on the floor untended, ignored and unfed. We were told about him late on Saturday night but by the time we arrived early on Sunday morning, he was dead.

Nineteen-year-old Amanita Jeremiah arrived – in labour – and moaning in agony. But when she arrived at the labour unit, the overnight nurse warned everyone to be careful about contact with her because “her eyes are red and she could have Ebola”.

She then went home and left the teenager in the charge of a traditional birth attendant, who had brought her to the hospital, and the hospital cleaner. Neither of them had any formal medical training. The cleaner also operated as a Traditional Birth Attendant, a role which is usually one of support for women giving birth at home and relies on cultural and traditional methods re childbirth, in her community.

Neither woman had sufficient protective clothing. One of the ways Ebola is transmitted is through bodily fluids like blood and birthing mothers who have the virus are therefore especially dangerous. The Sky News team offered them our spare safety clothing.

Amanita spent the next three hours writhing around in agony. At one stage, the cleaner used the remaining two phials of medicine in the maternity ward stocks to try to kickstart the labour. Amanita went into convulsions and had to be held down by both women who looked terrified.

Finally a nursing assistant arrived. Again we had to provide some of our spare protective clothing.

Just as the baby was being born, the cleaner fainted. She had been in her protective suit for nearly three hours. The recommended time for wearing the PPE is about 90 minutes – although many aid agencies enforce a 45-minute rule because of the suffocating heat in Sierra Leone.

Baby Emmanuel’s arrival was greeted initially with elation – but he is now the latest Ebola suspect and until the disease is ruled out, he is potentially a lethal health risk.

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