Morning breaks muggy and warm with broken clouds signaling that the rainy season is slowly giving way to its dry season doppelgänger. Roosters crow incessantly below my second-story apartment bedroom window, ridiculing anyone who wants a few minutes of extra sleep on a Saturday morning. Life in Monrovia, Liberia is waking up to a new day in Ebola Land.
It’s an important day for us as Dr. Rene Vega, our chief medical officer, has returned from a week of Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) training with one of our NGO partners, the International Medical Corps, at their Bong county site. Dr. Vega will be taking a week break from the ETU and working with us in our Monrovia office. He will then return to Bong to gain even more experience in preparation of the opening of our own ETU in a few short weeks in Nimba county, eight hours of rough road from here.
We are looking forward to getting Rene’s input on the design of the ETU we will be operating. Nothing beats experience when it comes to improving the way the unit will be designed and built. Little details like how patients are brought into the ETU or even the width of a patient shower stall can be helpful in preventing unnecessary exposures and risks. Doctors with many years of training in human anatomy are suddenly being asked to become experts in Ebola treatment unit layouts.
Reports of the number of patients coming to existing ETU’s in Liberia are down suggesting to some that the epidemic may be waning. That is not what the experts believe, nor even the man-on-the-street in Monrovia. Instead, it is widely thought that people have remained in their homes when showing signs of Ebola rather than heading for an ETU. They naturally fear isolation from their loved ones and the seemingly inhuman nature of being treated by people in body suits where only the medical worker’s eyes are visible, and that through goggles. Fear is palpable.
Staying at home has terrible implications for this disease since home caregivers, almost always members of the patients’ family, usually become the next victims. And so the disease continues, as yet unconfined. More ETU’s will be built in both the cities and the countryside as this impoverished country seeks to eradicate a virus that is causing panic and fear to spread around the world.