Thursday, 16 October 2014

Ebola: Hope Amid Fear

by Ayesha Gyening

Fatu Kekula, student nurse, saves her family from Ebola
As Ebola reaches Europe, and Jeremy Hunt has told Britain that we should expect ‘ten cases by Christmas’ I wanted to share an inspirational story about the epidemic. Ebola, which has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa, and is rapidly spreading across the globe, is a virus that causes viral haemorrhagic fever and has been deemed the ‘most severe acute health emergency in modern times’ by The World Health Organisation as the number of cases hit 8,400.

70% of the people who catch it are killed, a terrifying figure. What’s even more worrying is that symptoms may only appear up to 21 days after infection so it is difficult to identify if you have the virus thus enabling it to be easily spread. There is also no vaccination, which is why Fatu Kekula’s story is so amazing.

When her 53 year old father, Moses, developed a fever in Liberia, Fatu, a trainee nurse, took him to the nearest hospital. It was there that he unknowingly lay down in a bed where a patient had just died of Ebola, and contracted the virus, which can be spread through bodily fluids. The hospital soon closed down because nurses started dying of Ebola. Although she was rung by the family doctor, urging her to stop risking her life by caring for her family and leave them to die, selfless twenty two year old Fatu Kekula was able to keep three out of the four members of her family who were infected with Ebola alive after they were turned away by four hospitals who were full and unprepared for the over flow of people. After returning home with her father, who then infected the rest of her family, she called for an ambulance every day for two weeks, yet her calls were ignored.
Fatu's family: sister, mother and father

 In fact, lack of space in hospitals is a huge problem in Liberia, with many desperately ill patients lying motionless on the ground; too weak to even get up to go inside. In one video you can see a little boy attempt to get out of an ambulance and walk into a hospital, only to collapse to the ground, where he remained, unaided the hospital workers. It is ironic that although he was only metres away from help, he was still suffering.

Faced with the chance of losing her entire family, Fatu, who is in her final year of nursing school, took it upon herself to care for them, with the only help being a phone call from the family doctor who refused to go to her home.

Deciding to take matters into her own hands, she set up an isolated room to treat her family in, and through use of what’s been called, ‘the trash bag method’ managed to stay healthy and prevent infection. This method, which is now being taught to other West Africans, involves donning socks, with plastic bags over them, rain boots, four sets of gloves, a coat, a mask and a plastic bag over her hair. She would change this outfit several times a day, and this combined with the cost of blood pressure medicine, antibiotics, analgesics, and antiretroviral medicine used for AIDS patients, in addition to an IV through which she fed her father, meant that she quickly spent $600. However, it was worth it, as she managed to stay healthy, when more that 300 health care workers have become infected.

On the eighteenth day the ambulance arrived, but it was too late for her cousin, Alfred, who died in the hospital. Luckily, the rest of her family survived with a 25% death rate that is remarkably better than the estimated Ebola death rate of 70%. Now Fatu wants to spread hope, and pass on her knowledge on to other families. She is also teaching others about her ‘trash bag method’ through workshops organized by the Ministry of Health.  

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