Suakoko, Bong County - Dr. Melvin Korkor, a doctor of Phebe hospital, has beaten the odds and survived Ebola, but he still has one more problem: The stigma carried by the deadly disease. Even though he is completely healthy, people are afraid to come near him or to have anything to do with him.
For example, Korkor arrived on the campus of Cuttington University Monday to ‘attend to personal issues’ but was kept at bay by friends, students and loved ones. ‘We want to hug our doctor, but fear we would come in contact with the virus,’ one student told FrontPageAfrica. I will greet him from a distance.’
Another student only identified as Catherine told FrontPageAfrica: ‘I am a happy doctor Korkor has returned, but I am totally not convinced he is Ebola free. I will shake his hands after 21 days.’
That is the level of stigma that is lingering long after the virus has been purged from Korkor’s body. ‘Thanks to God, I am cured. But now I have a new disease: the stigmatization that I am a victim of,” Korkor was quoted by a local radio station in Gbarnga. ‘This disease (the stigma) is worse than the fever. I should have died, but I responded to care, which includes intensive hydration.’
Even though Korkor said he has been cleared of Ebola, he says that people avoid him. ‘Now, everywhere in my neighborhood, all the looks bore into me like I’m the plague,” he said. FrontPageAfrica reporter who trailed the Phebe doctor on Cuttington campus Monday observed that people left places when he showed up while friends, students and loved ones avoided his handshake or eat with him.
The Ebola outbreak in Bong County has claimed more than five lives so far. More than 10 people, hospital sources said, mostly in Phebe and Suakoko, are suspected of having caught the illness, which causes horrific suffering, including bursting blood vessels and bleeding from ears and other orifices. There is no vaccine, no treatment and the disease is almost always fatal.
Regionally, according to the World Health Organization, between 21 and 23 July 2014, 96 new cases and 7 deaths were reported from Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Guinea, 12 new cases and 5 deaths were reported during the same period.
These include suspect, probable, and laboratory-confirmed cases. The surge in the number of new EVD cases in Guinea after weeks of low viral activity demonstrates that undetected chains of transmission existed in the community. This phenomenon is retrogressive to the control of the EVD outbreak; and calls for stepping up outbreak containment measures, especially effective contact tracing.
In addition, the Ministry of Health of Nigeria has reported the first probable case of EVD. According to the Nigerian authorities, the case Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old Liberian male national who recently travelled to Nigeria where he presented in hospital with symptoms of EVD.
“The patient travelled by air and arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, on 20th July via Lomé, Togo. He was symptomatic while traveling, was admitted to a private hospital immediately on arrival, and died on 25 July. On 22 July, a sample was taken and preliminary laboratory analysis was conducted in the virology laboratory of Lagos University Teaching Hospital and tested positive for Ebola virus.
The sample from this case is being referred to the WHO Collaborating Centre at the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, for confirmation. The national authority in Nigeria is working closely with WHO and partners to ensure that this incident case is contained at the source.”
In Liberia, a handful of the infected do survive. About five patients have survived in Liberia so far in Liberia, according to the Bong County Health Team. Surviving Ebola is a matter of staying alive long enough to have the chance to develop enough antibodies to fight off the virus, said Dr. Sampson Arzuakoi, head of the Bong County Health Team.
He said that’s because it’s typically the symptoms of Ebola — severe fever, hemorrhaging, dehydration, respiratory problems — that kills a patient. Stigma often accompanies the spread of deadly, poorly understood diseases, said Arzuakoi, noting that the terrified reaction to Ebola recalls the early days of the HIV epidemic.
Ebola may incite an even more severe reaction because health workers responding to it wear head-to-toe protective gear that look like space suits, he noted. In this outbreak, the homes of some of the infected in the county have been attacked and nurses at Phebe and C. B. Dunbar hospitals have abandoned their jobs.
The Bong County Health Team and other organizations in the county are doing extensive community outreach to explain how the disease is transmitted — only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of symptomatic people — and to explain that those are cured no longer contagious. The most powerful tool to combat stigma is the way health care workers treat a discharged patient, said Patience Clarke, one of few nurse at the Phebe hospital said.
‘The patient never leaves alone,” she said of when Ebola survivors leave their isolation wards, and health care workers individually shake hands with the survivor.’ Arzuakoi said Korkor was treated for about a week before he was declared cured. He said that’s typical for the miraculous few: Korkor should be celebrated, really, as opposed to stigmatized.’