Family matters

12 January 2009

Last night we admitted two new patients suspected with Ebola: the daughter (3 years of age) of a woman who died in Kampungu at the start of the epidemic and her aunt who was taking care of her. They are both doing quite well, it would seem, and the disinfection of their house was easier to arrange since the members of the household must have performed the same "ritual" when the mother died at the end of December. Of course, the father is very shocked, given the death of his wife and now the isolation of his daughter. It is not an easy situation to deal with. But he remains very calm, asks all the questions he has and respects our work.

The same cannot unfortunately be said for everyone. Many think that the disease we call Ebola does not exist, that it is no more than witchcraft. In addition, the fact that there is no treatment makes the population doubt our ability to help them in real terms. Today we visited a little 8 year old girl who is the sister (and, therefore, a contact) of a patient who died from Ebola. She started to get a temperature this morning but her father refused to allow her to be put in isolation. This afternoon, the little girl still had a temperature, despite the anti-malaria treatment, but her father did not want to see reason. He even refused to accept my leaving some protection equipment, so that he can give care at home without putting his health and that of the members of his family at risk.

He is absolutely convinced that he is combating witchcraft – in which case no-one can do anything; or that it is simple malaria – and our doctor has obviously muddied the waters with the anti-malaria treatment.

Jonas, our doctor, was ready to bang his head against the wall... and I must admit I was ready to join him in this highly constructive pursuit, when after fully explaining the precautions to take so as to safeguard his family, the father told me that he would do nothing of the sort and that everyone would be sleeping in the same bed tonight. It was like a threat, a way of showing me to what extent our words were of no value to him!

In short, a very stubborn father but also a reflection of what may be being said in the community ... Tomorrow a team will go back to see this family, and we have all our fingers crossed that the little girl's fever will go down, and that we can rule out the possibility of Ebola.

For my part, I will be spending the day in the isolation centre, unless new suspected patients are sent to us.