‘Ebola makes you a risk to yourself: touching your face can infect you’

Sunday, September 21, 2014
By Paul Martin

As Sierra Leoneans endure a lockdown to contain the virus, Monica Mark reports from Freetown on her own anxiety visiting hospitals and villages, and the key role of charities in fighting the epidemic

Monica Mark
Saturday 20 September 2014

Hospital waiting rooms are miserable places at the best of times, but in the middle of an Ebola outbreak Freetown’s Princess Christian Maternal Hospital is suffocating. Corridors that would normally bustle with children and harried parents are sepulchral. Nurses whisper in forlorn huddles in empty rooms. Then a shriek of joy shatters the silence. “Jessica! You’re back from America!”, a tiny elderly woman cries, rushing towards me with open arms. Before I have time to react, she throws her arms around me in a vice-like embrace.

What would ordinarily be brushed off as a case of mistaken identity takes me 21 days – the incubation time of the Ebola virus – to get over.

In a country where more than 500 have died after six months of Ebola – which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids – the “no touching” rule has become the norm. At the beginning of my 10-day trip to Sierra Leone, I went to shake a friend’s hand. He threw himself back against the wall with a panic that would have been comical if not for the fear on his face. Such reactions soon became as routine as having my temperature taken at road checkpoints and washing my hands in buckets of chlorinated water found everywhere.

I had only one more lapse. On my third day I was at the Médecins Sans Frontières treatment centre with my sister Katie, a documentary film-maker who was accompanying me, when I reached out to tuck a wisp of her hair that had come loose. The act was so natural, I didn’t even think about it. Suddenly a medic yelled across the field hospital: “No touching!”

The Rest…HERE

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