Tuesday, May 29, 2018

On the Front Lines of the Ebola Epidemic

“It felt like being on a sinking ship,” Kidega says. “You can’t believe the fear.”

Some victims swarmed the hospitals, while others ran away in panic as nurses fell ill all around them. Even the rebels were spooked; the LRA released 40 prisoners, fearing that they might be carrying the virus.

When the trucks pull into Akwayugi, villagers look up from sifting maize and wheat. This isn’t as bad as Sub-Saharan Africa gets, but there’s serious squalor here. About a fifth of the children have the bulging bellies that indicate severe malnutrition.

The Red Cross volunteers divide into four-person teams and move through the village, asking questions of the small crowds that gather wherever they go: Did anyone have a fever? Did anyone have bloody diarrhea or vomit? Was there a sudden death?

The team has a “reintegration kit” for two girls who survived Ebola after they lost their mother to the disease. They find them with their father, Charles Odongo, outside the family’s round, mud-brick hut. Two weeks earlier, Odongo returned from the fields to find his wife in the hut with a headache and high fever. “It took six hours for the ambulance to get here,” he says. “And by the time they arrived, she had died.” When he sees the kit—cooking pots, blankets, soap, salt, and clothing—he smiles gratefully. “Immediately upon leaving for the hospital with my wife’s body, our things were burned by the neighbors,” he says.

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Dangerous Medicine

When the old Czech prop-plane lurches to a halt at the side of the military airstrip, the six doctors unfurl their stiff legs, disembark, and begin unloading. They shift 47 boxes—a metric ton of laboratory gear—onto a truck and drive toward town, trailing a spiral of orange dust as they pass army checkpoints and outsized churches, roadside vendors and crowds of people listening to radios, talking, and singing.

The most surprising thing is how ordinary it all looks, at first. Set in the middle of a fertile, if unrelieved, savanna, Gulu could be any other East African provincial center. Everywhere, people are on the move, some pedaling bikes, others riding on the fringed rear seats of bicycle taxis, most just walking. They walk upright, with stone-straight posture, some carrying babies on their backs, some balancing loads on their heads, some bare-footed, others in sandals. They walk—and the doctors drive—past the field where the Pope once spoke, from atop two shipping containers still piled one atop the other; past the turnoff that leads to the witch doctor’s house; past another road that leads to a small village near the forest—the forest where, perhaps, it all started.

It takes a few minutes, as if the doctors’ eyes were getting used to a new light, before hints begin to emerge that life here is far from normal. There are none of the usual swarms of children in school uniforms. White trucks drive through town, emblazoned with the red crosses and acronyms—UN, WHO, MSF—that portend crisis. The hospital building, where the doctors pull up, is wrapped in white plastic sheeting. At the door, a hand-lettered sign warns “No entrance without permission.” The sign is illustrated with a crude human figure, with an X drawn over it.

Read the entire story here!

On the Front Lines of the Ebola Epidemic

“It felt like being on a sinking ship,” Kidega says. “You can’t believe the fear.” Some victims swarmed the hospitals, while others ran ...