15 Nov 2014

The Ebola sufferers refused treatment in Sierra Leone

You want the good news or the bad?

Ok – you’ve taken a lot of the bad this week so let’s do the positive: the Sierra Leonian positive.

So I am inside the Sierra Leonean funded Hastings Hospital near Freetown this morning.

I bump into the country’s deputy health minister, the redoubtable Madina Rahman, 33 years a teaching nurse in a New Jersey teaching hospital and not about to take any of the proverbial from anyone at all.

She marches around the Hastings Hospital in a splendid matching gold and black scarf and dress, giving hell to anyone in sight she sees failing to follow hygiene protocols.

“I catch you here selling food again I call the soldiers, you hear me?” she yells at some fruit sellers who failed to rub away in time. “Come – follow,” she says to me. It is not a question. Fair play to her, within minutes we are witnessing a large integrated isolation unit and a hospital with 300 or 400 beds – nobody yet knows what will be required. It all opens a week today. “It is the hidden enemy here Ebola – it is worse than the civil war was here,” she says. “You could see the bombs and billets and tear gas – not now.” She cannot understand why the British hospital up the road at Kerry Two is taking so long to fill its beds when the need is so urgent.

Next door, the existing hospital in a police training college is already the biggest in the country at 120 beds. Run by the Sierra Leonian army, a lieutenant and doctor shows us round. “Of every 10 patients who come in here, only about two will die,” he says on camera. I press him and he states the figures. If true this is an astonishing rate of success – though I sense it will be treated with some scepticism outside the hospital compound.

Nonetheless, behind us sit around 50 patients who he says have recovered from various stages of Ebola.

They’ll get transport back across all areas of the country where they’ve come from along with money and food to get them restarted. They will also take a high degree of immunity from the virus, if indeed they have recovered from it.

The bad news. Well it is lying right outside the hospital’s main gate.

Breathing rapidly and shallowly, 23-year-old Adama Turay lies exhausted in the dirt. Her husband Alusine says he has carried her miles for treatment only to be turned away.

“She is weak, she has been vomiting,” he says. “They say we have to go to a holding centre for diagnosis but public transport won’t take us and the ambulance doesn’t come.”

Alusine’s only protection? A pair of ill-fitting and torn surgical gloves.

Well, naturally deputy minister Rahman was bellowing down her mobile about 13 seconds after we told her about Adama.

As we left hospital though, Adama was still there writhing in the the gutter. She wasn’t alone. Mohamed Conteh was slumped a few feet away, delivered by his friend on a motorbike, also without any protection.

The Hastings new facility opens here next week with lab and diagnosis in site as well as those new beds.

I doubt Adama will make it that far, nor Mohamed and even Adama’s husband Alusine. As we leave water and some money for him, you can’t help but see his eyes are already turning red – a warning sign of the incoming virus.

Adama slowly writhes and pants in the gutter. Motorists stop to gawp and then drive on. Ambulances scream past into the hospital all blues and two and urgency.

And Adama and Mohamed lie here dying because one part of the system cannot communicate with another – even after all these months.

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