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Ebola Causing ‘Collapse Of The Health Care System’ In West Africa:Boston Doctor

Members of Partners in Health work with representatives from Liberia and Sierra Leone via conference call to help combat the Ebola outbreak. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Members of Partners in Health work with representatives from Liberia and Sierra Leone via conference call to help combat the Ebola outbreak. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
BOSTON — A group of Boston doctors just finished the first Ebola response training programrun by the Centers for Disease Control. They’re part of a larger contingent that Boston-basedPartners In Health will be sending to parts of West Africa, where the virus is running rampant.
The chief medical officer at Partners In Health, Dr. Joia Mukherjee, was in Monrovia, Liberia, last week and at this week’s CDC training.
WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Dr. Mukherjee and asked about reports of Ebola deaths happening in the streets of some west African communities.
Dr. Joia Mukherjee: You see that in isolated areas, maybe in one neighborhood of the city or maybe in one village. I mean, the city itself looks like a normal African city. It’s bustling. People are going to work. They’re in the market. So you don’t see sickness everywhere you go, but there is a sense of foreboding. At every major public building and private building, such as a government hospital or a private hotel, there’s a hand-washing station outside. No one is shaking hands; people will just bump elbows and stand at their requisite couple of meters away from one other. So you do see the presence of the fear and the infection control that people are trying to do, but you don’t right now see this kind of rampant death.
WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer: When you talked about infection control like hand-washing stations, is that accompanied by a lot of either billboards or public service announcements that get the word out that people need to try to follow certain protocols so it won’t spread even more?
Yes, there’s a lot of public education campaigns going on, a lot of posters. When you use your cell phone a message comes up about Ebola. Initially there was a lack of acceptance about Ebola even being real, so a lot of the education is about that, but I think it’s less about that now than just trying to instruct people how to stay as safe as possible.
Despite those measures, the virus is still spreading. What do you think it will take to stop that spread?
I think part of the problem with public education campaigns in a very poor setting is less about people not understanding than about not having any alternative. So, for example, if you’re a mother or a wife and your husband falls ill, you’re going to take care of the person in your family. And if you were able to say, okay, there’s a number I can call or a community member who can go alert an ambulance who will come and immediately take this person, you can limit infection. But right now that mechanism to remove people from their homes or their communities as soon as they’re sick is just not sufficient.


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