British doctor says fight against Ebola is not over

Dr Daniel Cooper says the world should not become complacent about Ebola. Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

International Medical Corps worker Dr Daniel Cooper writes for ITV News from Sierra Leone about what it's like to work on the frontline fighting Ebola.

On Monday I had to make the three-hour trip to Freetown to collect some equipment for the care of our patients at the Ebola Treatment Centre.

Along the busy and chaotic road, having survived a series of near misses, we passed a school bus that had crashed and overturned.

We stopped to see if we could offer any help with our basic medical kit, and thankfully nobody was seriously hurt.

This did bring home to me however, that whilst the government and international effort focuses on the Ebola crisis, the lack of infrastructure or any basic healthcare outside of Freetown is a major and worsening problem.

Health workers in Sierra Leone are in need of international support and equipment. Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

I often feel frustrated when we have patients that are sick, but don’t have Ebola. We have a wealth of expertise amongst the staff, but our treatment is limited to that of Ebola.

It can’t be any different for infection control reasons, but where there is diagnostic doubt we have 48 hours to try everything we can to treat the none Ebola patients.

This may seem irrelevant to the rest of my story, but hopefully the perspective will get clearer.

A health worker sprays a colleague with disinfectant. Credit: REUTERS/Media Coulibaly

The Mateneh Ebola Treatment Centre - built by the British government and run by International Medical Corps - is just seeing the end of the busiest period of any ETC in the history of the West African outbreak.

Just as it seemed the outbreak was under control in the north of Sierra Leone, a single case of an infected man travelling from Freetown to a small rural village called Rosanda sparked an unprecedented spike in cases which will be the subject of research and debate long after this is over.

This small village epitomises the difficulties in bringing Ebola under control in a culture deeply rooted in tradition, witch healers and a suspicion of Western medicine.

One man spread Ebola to 70 people in a village within a few days. Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

In the space of a few days, over 70 inhabitants of Rosanda were admitted to the centre. The spread was swift and devastating.

This small community lost entire families, with those surviving having suffered through this terrible disease with their parents, brothers and sisters and children dying in the next bed.

A baby boy was born and died on our Ebola ward.

We have a big celebration for each survivor, but it’s difficult to comprehend how our two six year old survivors could ever recover after witnessing the events on the wards during those dark days.

I wasn’t here for those early and busiest days of the spike i I was seeing patients in a renal medicine clinic in Worcestershire, but this storm was weathered by 12 courageous, dedicated and selfless NHS volunteers and the tireless International Medical Corps staff who should be immensely proud of their time here.

It is hard to feel positive emotions about a time when you’ve seen 42 patients suffer and die in the space of 10 days, but thanks to their efforts and the centre in Mateneh those two six year olds, and the other survivors, have the chance to rebuild their lives and grow up healthy.

Dr Dan Cooper has been writing for ITV on the Ebola virus. Credit: Department of Health

Sierra Leone has now seen its first “zero cases” day, with not a single new infection in a 24-hour period. At a time when Ebola treatment beds are being scaled back, the small village of Rosanda has shown us that we cannot be complacent and this crisis is not yet over.

Now, back to the bus crash.

It is easy for death to become disturbingly routine, but this event juxtaposed to the standard or care we can offer at our treatment centre reinforced to me the fact that when this outbreak is over Sierra Leone will be one of the poorest countries in the world with a devastated working population and a generation of children who have missed years of school. This is something that cannot be ignored by the international community.

There is a real chance to develop the existing skills and resources into a functional and sustainable healthcare infrastructure.

This is far beyond the scope of my expertise, but for now I console myself with the knowledge that one person cannot change the world, but one person can do something to alleviate the suffering of another human being.