Facing Ebola alone: A nation is dying; where is the world?

In Global by AHF

By Miata Jambawai

Special to the Mercury News

POSTED:   10/07/2014 12:17:15 PM PDT

In late September, Sierra Leone embarked on a three-day national shut-down for an Ebola house-to-house sensitisation, deploying thousands of government staff, NGO workers and volunteers in an attempt to identify Ebola infections and educate a frightened public about the realities of the disease. As Country Program Manager for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), I was a member of that Ebola Rapid Response Team.

There is no hospital or clinic that is untouched by this disease, and we are losing healthcare workers every day. In July, my foundation lost Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, the country’s leading Ebola specialist, to Ebola. Our ability to treat patients is crippled because he was not only providing care for HIV patients, but he was a mentor for our staff.

We have also lost a lab technician, leaving another gap in our disintegrating healthcare system.

Where is the world? Our doctors are dying. Our nurses are dying. Our lab technicians are dying and help does not come. The only medical professionals getting life-saving treatment are foreign nationals — people from America and Europe. Last month, Sierra Leone’s Dr. Olivet Buck contracted Ebola and despite pleas to the World Health Organization for medi-vac to Germany, where a facility was waiting to admit her, she was denied the opportunity and left to die. One WHO doctor contracted Ebola in Kenema in early September and the entire team evacuated.

Our hospitals lack basic medical supplies like gloves, facemasks and boots.

Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross are on the front lines of Ebola, running the isolation units, treating the sick. The AIDS foundation has distributed $450,000 worth of equipment and supplies, sharing with national facilities in Freetown and Kenema. NGOs are doing all we can, but NGOs don’t command military infrastructure, don’t have endless resources and trained personnel. NGOs cannot stop Ebola without help, and help is not coming.

Maybe it is because we are African, or my country is too small or too poor, or because we have no oil? Maybe it is because world leaders can’t find Sierra Leone on a map, and this crisis has become one more in a series of Africa tragedies? Or because Ebola only grabs Western headlines when Americans are threatened?

President Obama recently deployed $500 million in aid and committed 3,000 troops to help contain the crisis in Liberia. His actions will make a profound difference. I just wish they had come months sooner. The British and Cubans have also provided aid and staff. Now, the World Health Organization, the European Union and the UN Security Council must step up.

Last week, news of the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States set off a media and Internet frenzy. Meanwhile, we are still dying by the thousands here in Africa.

In the past 21 days, there have been more confirmed cases of Ebola than in the entire preceding six months. Families bury their dead, risking infection because we don’t have resources to help them. Our staff is afraid. Their families are afraid of them when they go home. The stigma has seen our African brothers close their borders to us, and the reality of Ebola is killing our most valuable weapon to stop it: our healthcare workers. They are dying, and the world is letting them.

We are on our own and we are running out of time.

Where is the world?

Miata Jambawai is the Country Program Manager for AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Sierra Leone. She condensed this article from a version published in Africa.

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