Sunday August 10,
2014 - As the sensitisation campaign intensifies
with the key districts of Kenema and Kailahun in
lockdown, we pay tribute to all those who gave
and continue to make selfless contributions in
the battle against the deadly Ebola. We look at
the work of the United Methodist Church in
Sierra Leone as well as the broader
community...and we ask - what is being done to
contain the disease in the massively
overpopulated slum called Freetown?
We have so far,
quite rightly we believe, paid tribute to those healthcare
workers - doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners etc
who, despite knowing now about the threats to
their lives in the battle against the ogre
called Ebola, continue to give of their best to
those afflicted as well as to the community.
Many news outlets have reported on the number of
these brave health delivery officials who have
died but what has remained lacking, is to try
and put a face
to the statistics as well as others who died
battling similar deadly infections.
Take the case
of one Dr Aniru Conteh - "In 1979, Dr. Aniru Conteh, a
Sierra Leonean physician, joined the
CDC team. Dr. Conteh dedicated his
life to treating patients with Lassa
Fever and became known as the
world's leading specialist on the
Once war broke out in the
early 90s, the CDC shut down its
activities in Sierra Leone and moved
its research to neighboring Guinea.
Despite insecurity and lack of
resources, Dr. Conteh and the rest
of the Sierra Leonean Lassa Fever
Program staff continued their work,
moving their operations to Kenema
Government Hospital. Through ten
years of war, thousands of patients
including United Nations
peacekeepers and rebel fighters were
treated at KGH. The Lassa Isolation
Ward remained open despite
instability and it is perhaps the
notoriety of the killer disease that
ensured its safety.
In March 2004, Dr. Conteh
sustained a needlestick injury while
treating a patient and became
infected with the Lassa virus.
Tragically, he died 18 days later
from the disease he had dedicated
his life to eradicate."
Now here's another story that is as sad as it
It is the story of two women Mballu Fonnie and Veronica Koroma who have been
involved in providing much-needed care for Ebola
patients. Both have had experience working with
people contracting Lassa fever and both had
contracted Lassa fever, but as the Good Lord
would have it, both survived and continued their
work, the very vital work of providing the
much-needed support for Lassa fever patients.
The older of the two women,
specialized in the delivery of babies whose
mothers are Lassa fever positive. And so for
them it was but natural, given their dedication
and experience that when Ebola reared its ugly
head, they were there to help a people who knew
nothing about Ebola fever and the ravage it can
inflict on families, communities, villages and
In an article on the website of the United
Methodist Church, one reporter paints this
"Mbalu Fonnie and Veronica Karoma, sweat
beading on their faces, squinted into the
hot afternoon sun on June 8 and talked about
the panic they were feeling as nurses
first confirmed cases of Ebola in Sierra
Leone at Kenema Government Hospital. Both
Fonnie and Koroma had moved past their panic
and were determined to save lives, agreeing
that they were called to be at the bedsides
of those suffering.
“As we work, we talk Ebola; as we go to
our homes, we talk Ebola; as we go into the
market, we talk Ebola, but some even
educated people don’t want to face facts,” Koroma told United Methodist News Service at
Fonnie had been the head nurse at the small
rural hospital for more than 25 years.
Standing in her crisp white uniform that
day, she presented herself as a solid
barrier between the patients under her care
and the world. She spoke of the hospital’s
first Ebola patient, a pregnant woman. “She
lost her baby but she is much, much
improved. She wants to move about,
restricting her is our main problem at the
moment,” Fonnie said, putting into practical
terms what nurses do.
As she talked, colleagues behind her
dressed in rubber boots, masks and medical
scrubs were spraying the area with a bleach
solution and scrubbing down doorways. Both Fonnie and Koroma recalled surviving
Lassa fever—another deadly viral hemorrhagic
fever. “We are Lassa survivors, me and my
boss,” Koroma said, smiling and looking over
at Fonnie. “We know what it means to be
infected with viral hemorrhagic fever. Our
fight really is to get a lot of survivors.
They will help us tell the story and
sensitize the rest of the community.”
Soon after that June interview, both
women also became Ebola patients.
Fonnie died. Karoma is surviving.
Since the outbreak which started in late
May, about 16 nurses at the Kenema hospital
have died, including all of the nurses at
the Ebola epicenter. The title of the
article - "Nurses,
doctors save lives but lose their own"
(We have taken the liberty of correcting nurse
Veronica Koroma's name, not Karoma as in the
On the website of the United Methodist Church
Committee on Relief, UMCOR, we found this -
work of others involved in the fight against
Ebola - "Beatrice Gbanga, a
missionary and health board coordinator in
Sierra Leone, used a recent bed net distribution
get the word out about Ebola prevention. She
stresses the importance of using protective
equipment. “Nurses have died of Ebola,” she
said. “I am a nurse. I can see the risk. We must
The health and safety of doctors
and nurses is one of UMCOR’s priorities.
Thousands of face masks, gloves, and other
protective equipment is on its way to West
Africa right now. UMCOR is also sending saline,
disposable needles and syringes because the main
treatment for Ebola patients in IV fluids.
Bishop John K. Yambasu of Sierra Leone sees the
church’s role as not only a healthcare provider,
but a loudspeaker. “As religious leaders,” he
writes, “our followers listen to us more than
they do politicians, especially on matters
relating to faith and health.”
inter-religious task force on Ebola, which
he chairs, has called for three days of prayer
and fasting, August 6-8. “Our goal is to… work
with the government and other nongovernmental
organizations to give hope to those communities
and persons who are going through pain, fear and
denial,” writes Bishop Yambasu. “Ebola is real.
In spite of the threat it poses to life, all is
not lost. There is hope for intervention if
people seek early medical help.”
To say that
health workers are without fear of Ebola would
be the understatement of the century given the
fact that a large percentage of them on the
frontline have died in the battle against the
Indeed the deaths of Dr Khan, all the
lead nurses at the Kenema Government hospital as
well as the devastating toll on those affected
paint a grim picture, could well send a message
- do so at your peril.
June 9 article from UMCOR states -
"Ebola has been reported in Bo district, and
health and government officials are
scrambling to quarantine villages and get
patients into medical facilities. On the
frontline is United Methodist Mercy
Hospital, which is close to the outbreak.
The first reported case, at the end of May,
was in neighboring Guinea. Sierra Leone has had 24 confirmed Ebola
cases in three chiefdoms since that
outbreak, Dr. Amara Jambai, director of
disease prevention and control in the
country, told United Methodist News Service."
That was then but now we
know differently with the Government of the
rat's decision to declare a state of emergency
as well as quarantining the two districts at the
epicentre of the outbreak - Kailahun and Kenema.
Even as these two districts
are targeted, we have asked pertinent questions
relating to the deployment of the security
forces for fear that they behave rabidly as they
did during our troubles when they acted and
actually believed they were an occupation force
from another planet.
The mere presence of a
road block to enforce these measures hearkens
back to those dark days when these road blacks
became major bribery sites as well as places
where those not liked by them were subjected to
any form of mental and physical torture as well
as human rights abuses. We would not be
surprised to hear of searches made on persons
and their belongings who had been allowed
through to Kenema and Kailahun.
Many theories have been put
forward as to how Sierra Leone got invaded by
the killer Ebola disease.
The New York Times
thinks the source could be found in a 2-year old
boy who succumbed to and died of Ebola and that
those who came into contact with him, not
knowing the nature of the affliction unknowingly
spread the disease.
Dr Amara Jambai the
director of disease prevention and control for
Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health talks of one
story that he heard - of how a female herbalist
residing in an area that straddles the three
countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone
was offering help to those reportedly suffering
from an attack of Ebola.
Having come in contact,
close contact with the victims, she, the
herbalist was reported to have contracted the
disease and died. Of those who handled her body
for burial - eleven of the 14 people identified
contracted the disease. All eleven died.
It is the hope that now
that a sensitisation programme is in place, such
costly mistakes would be a thing of the past.
(All pictures are from
UMC web pages and video clips)