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Africa

Sierra Leonean nurses do their best for quarantined homes in new Ebola hotspot

media A nurse walks past a quarantined house in Konteh Bana village, Port Loko … Photo: Daniel Finnan

New Ebola hotspots are emerging in Sierra Leone with infection rates surpassing Kailahun or Kenema, the original epicentres of the virus in the country. One such area is Port Loko district in Northern Province which does not yet have a treatment centre. Local nurses are doing their best to provide what care they can to quarantined homes.

“The mother complained that her daughter vomited yesterday,” says nurse Oumou Hawa Bah during a visit to a quarantined home in Kontah Bana village, near Lunsar.

Since Bah’s last visit, the woman’s son has died from suspected Ebola. She has already lost her husband and looks at the nurse in despair when told that she must try not to touch her remaining two children. The nurses are worried about continued transmission of the virus because they do not know which family members, if any, are infected.

Bah, who’s dressed in protective goggles, surgical mask and surgical gloves, takes all of their temperatures noting them down and explaining that they have administered anti-malarial drugs. Because they cannot test these people for Ebola, providing anti-malarial drugs for a fever is the only recourse they have.

The mother says she has a headache. The nurses determine that this and the other symptoms exhibited by the rest of her family could be Ebola or any number of other illnesses.

These nurses have travelled from nearby St John of God hospital to Kontah Bana and several other villages daily to monitor suspected Ebola cases and quarantined homes.

As the nurses try to comfort the mother and her children, Mariatu Deen Koroman walks behind the group along the mud road. She is reluctant to tell her story at first, but eventually recalls how Ebola has ravaged her family.

“I lost my husband, I lost my mother and my younger sister,” she says, breaking down halfway through her story, holding back the tears.

The 26-year-old composes herself after a few minutes, explaining that she was in Port Loko holding centre from 8 September until 1 November. She says she was caring for her mother before she contracted suspected Ebola.

At the holding centre she received medicine and food. When describing her symptoms she says she was feeling “weak, vomiting and stooling”.

Koroman has nine children depending on her and no job to support them. “Please government, help us,” she pleads with desperation in her voice.

At the end of the village the nurses pay a visit to a second quarantined home. A father, his son, four daughters and a baby come out to greet the nurses, keeping themselves behind a bamboo stick barring the path to the house.

“They have been quarantined for three days,” says nurse Connie Osmana. The mother and one of the children have already died from suspected Ebola.

Once again all members of the family have their temperatures taken, however the family is not being as compliant with the security forces enforcing the quarantine.

“They are taking the children out,” says Osmana. “So that’s why we are talking to them, that they should stop that,” she adds, keen that Ebola does not spread to the rest of the village.

Port Loko district has recorded 565 confirmed cases of Ebola, the fourth highest in the country, according to statistics published by the National Ebola Response Centre on 7 November. The UN has warned that Ebola cases in Sierra Leone are being underreported by up to 50 per cent, according to reports.

International Medical Corps is constructing a 100 bed Ebola treatment centre a few kilometres from Konteh Bana, which they say will be operational by the end of November.

For now, the nurses are the only lifeline the two quarantined homes have, as these families wait out the 21-day period to ensure that they are Ebola-free, until the new treatment centre opens in Lunsar.

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