It’s awfully hot in Liberia. I’ve had a terrible day. I’ve entered the high-risk zone twice, trying to do everything I can to help my patients in their fight against this terrible disease that consumes them.
Every single task takes much longer than it should because the personal protective equipment that keeps us safe complicates even the simplest tasks. Twenty minutes to set an intravenous line for a patient that, in obvious hypovolemic shock* due to vomiting and diarrhoea, agonizes in bed.
A tall and strong man, who only a few days ago was taking care of his three children as their only support after his wife died on arrival at our centre, is today not strong enough to sit up. He screams in pain when I touch his abdomen, and his eyes show the despair of knowing his youngest son is agonising on the next bed.
I did everything that could be done. And still, I left knowing that was the last time I would see him alive. Outside, in our guest house, his other two children wait. The two best-behaved children I have ever seen. I watch them closely because, sadly, they are also on the contact list even though they are not showing any symptoms yet.
I don’t know how I will tell them their father is dying and that they are about to be left completely alone in life; while knowing that even though they still don’t show any signs, they will hardly be accepted at a family member’s home, feared as carriers of the disease.
I sit down for a moment and turned my computer on in an attempt to isolate myself from this terrible reality. Facebook, why not? It always helps to look for comfort in my friends’ comments, search for their smiles in their photos, read their stories, happier than mine.
What I found almost knocked me off my chair. More than one person had posted the most absurd and even dangerous “news” I can imagine. According to one, Ebola does not exist. It is a lie from Western governments or a plan to terminate the population of Africa. There is also the friend who posts that we - international NGO workers - have devised a “vaccine” to inject the disease into our patients. Those sharing this information are educated and smart, and they’re telling all their contacts that this is a hoax. Nothing out of the ordinary is happening in Liberia. This is just a macabre Western plot to despoil them of their riches…
I am unable to describe my feelings. I can’t believe this is what the world thinks of my struggle; of the struggle of national nurses who have been risking their lives for over six months in an attempt to save their fellow citizens, my patient’s daily struggle for their lives, lonely children in isolation rooms, mothers crying over their children, entire families destroyed by this virus, fortunate survivors who do not have the privilege of burying their dead. The dead who lie in our huge graveyard, where only a small board distinguishes one tomb from the next.
What more can I say to convince people at home that this is real? Why don't people who publish these lies stop and think of the dangers of convincing people to dismiss all precautions because Ebola does not exist?
Here in Liberia, the Health Promotion team visits the towns to convince people this is a real threat in an attempt to halt the progress of this terrible disease, and they are successful. But on seeing the facebook messages, I seriously wonder what type of team would have to visit my country and explain to my people that Ebola is real.
Deboriah S. Foko, an MSF Ebola awareness health promoter answers questions during a community visit. Foya district, Liberia. © Katy Athersuch/MSF
* Hypovolemic shock is an emergency condition in which severe blood and fluid loss make the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body
Citlali is working in Foya, Liberia, where our teams are providing a comprehensive package of medical care, outreach activities and education, health promotion, training and contact tracing. Find out more about MSF's work on Ebola www.msf.org.uk/ebola
Citlali wrote this post from Foya, Liberia, on 20th October 2014.