Another day in the life

Martin blogs from the frontline of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia

06:13 am. The mobile phone alarm clock wakes me up rudely. It is pitch dark in the room. A musty smell reaches my nostrils. Everything seems blurry and hazy, especially my mind. What day is it today? What's the date? It must already be September, possibly Wednesday.

In Foya, every day is the same. Get up, work, go to sleep. The big difference: sometimes it rains more, sometimes less. In between there are funerals, tears and anguish, new arrivals and - rarely, though - survivors. Oh yes, Ebola is also still there.

A sprayer takes a break from disinfecting houses.

Photo: Martin Zinggl/MSF

A sprayer takes a break from his disinfection work

It is in fact incomprehensible and shameful that these lines still have to be written. Since the beginning of this Ebola epidemic at least six months ago, the incidents repeat day after day. For six months the world has been standing back idly while in this corner of Africa people are dying. For six months. Groundhog day. Daily.

Plans are forged, promises are made, hope has been given - and annihilated. Where are the experts? The medical staff? The relief workers? Where are the resources? The chlorine? The care centres? The hygiene kits? The vehicles? Helicopters, gas, food, rubber boots, gloves, ...? The list is endless.

MSF has been working tirelessly for the last six months. We’ve received many thanks from around the world. But gratitude is not enough. Other organisations, however, are so far even rarer than Ebola survivors. So, if this message has not yet reached Brussels, Geneva, New York and Moscow, again a friendly reminder: MSF CAN’T DO IT ALONE! PLEASE COME AND PITCH IN!

Yes, we are providing care for Ebola patients, but every day, new patients arrive. And today our mode of action is merely "damage control."

Here in Foya, we believe we are working in one of the epicentres of the epidemic. In actual fact, apart from here and in Monrovia where other MSF teams are working, we do not know what the situation in the rest of the country looks like. We do not know whether there are areas in Liberia that are maybe much more affected. We do not know whether there are entire villages either eradicated by Ebola or cut off from the rest of the world.

Photo: Martin Zinggl/MSF

Triage of an Ebola suspected patient at night time

01:36 am. As a sign of their gratitude, the night guards in our compound have boiled water, so that we can enjoy warm bucket showers late in the evening. I lie in bed and stare into inky black nothingness. It is pitch dark in the room, again. Outside, the crickets are chirping.

Despite fatigue, I can’t get myself to rest. My anger and frustration is too much. Ever present in my mind are the images of the day. Once more, we saw the sheer horror of a father, as we buried his 7-year-old daughter. Once more we brought five suspected Ebola-infected people from some remote villages to our Ebola management centre. Once more, we had to explain and justify to several dozen villagers why we disinfect their homes with chlorine. And once more, we had to watch, powerless, a pregnant woman bleeding internally to death before our eyes. And this is still nothing compared to what is happening in Monrovia.

Time to sleep. Tomorrow, the cycle starts again.

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