September 2014 – AFRICA – The first body we had to bury was at a village called Gbanyawalu. When the corpse was turned over on his back for swabbing, it took in a breath — like somebody who has suffered from suffocation and was gasping for air. We nearly ran out. Even the World Health Organization worker was not expecting such a reaction from a corpse that was there three days before our arrival. On July 10, I was called into the office of Constant Kargbo, under-secretary general of Disease Management Programmes and Operations for Sierra Leone’s Red Cross Society. He said to me: “My man, I want to send you to Kailahun for dead body management. Will you go?” I took about five minutes to think on it. I joined the Red Cross when I was a child to work for humanity and to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable. I said, “I am from Kailahun. I must go to save my people.” When I reached Kailahun, it was like a war-torn country. My family was not happy; they were all scared and worrying. They called asking me to go back. My sister shed tears over the phone, but I reassured her. On average, we bury six bodies a day. The hardest part of the job is to take blood samples from the corpses.
My guys are professionals now. Our personal protective equipment and a chlorine solution are our protection; they are our medication and they are our doctors. We maintain the ABC Rule: Avoid Body Contact. My last word of caution to them whenever we come from the field is: “Gentlemen, you have done safe work and I am confident you are safe in this moment. When you go home, be mindful of your personal activities until we meet again tomorrow.” With this, no one has ever complained of even a simple headache. Thank God. Soon after arriving in Monrovia, I realized that my colleagues were overwhelmed by the scale of the Ebola outbreak. Our treatment centre — the biggest MSF has ever run — was full, and Stefan, our field coordinator, was standing at the gate turning people away. On an MSF mission, you have to be flexible. This wasn’t a job that we had planned for anyone to do, but somebody had to do it — and so I put myself forward. The first person I had to turn away was a father who had brought his sick daughter in the trunk of his car. He pleaded with me to take his teenage daughter, saying that whilst he knew we couldn’t save her life, at least we could save the rest of his family from her.
Other families just pulled up in cars, let the sick person out and then drove off, abandoning them. One mother tried to leave her baby on a chair, hoping that if she did, we would have no choice but to care for the child. I had to turn away one couple who arrived with their young daughter. Two hours later the girl died in front of our gate, where she remained until the body removal team took her away. Once I entered the high-risk zone, I understood why we couldn’t admit any more patients. There are processes and procedures in an Ebola treatment centre to keep everyone safe, and if people don’t have time to follow them, they can start making mistakes. There was no way of letting more patients in without putting everyone, and all of our work, at risk. But explaining this to people who were pleading for their loved ones to be admitted, and assuring them that we were expanding the centre as fast as we could, was almost impossible. In Monrovia, we estimate that there needs to be more than 1,000 beds to treat every Ebola patient. There are currently just 240. Until that gap is closed, the misery of turning people away at our gates will continue. –CNN