Gino’s Diary – October 28th, 2014
Waterloo isn’t only the town in Belgium that saw the defeat of Napoleon and the death of over 40,000 people back in 1815. There’s another Waterloo, here in Sierra Leone, not far from the capital: a British military airport from the Second World War, that’s been turned into a displaced persons camp where 22,000 people are living on top of each other in shacks. They’ve been camping right there, on the airport runway, since fleeing from the civil war many years ago. Now there’s another war in the Waterloo camp – the Ebola epidemic, but this time there’s no escape. Last month, 40 corpses were found in the shacks in a single day, and each one of those people infected someone in their family before dying.
On Thursday, 23rd October, a family of four was found lying on the ground in one of the alleys of Waterloo. The mother, father, and two children aged 6 and 16 had been sick with Ebola for days, and were in dire straits. With great generosity and a little foolhardiness, a Catholic priest loaded them into his car and took them to Lakka, leaving them outside the gates of the EMERGENCY Ebola Treatment Center.
And that’s how we found the Sesay family – four people who’d been sick for days and were laid out there on the ground. And our little center, just five tents with a total of 22 beds, is always full. The new patients have to wait for someone else to die, or to recover and be discharged, and so free a bed. A feeling of helplessness, frustration and anger: it’s not right. It’s not human to find a seriously ill person in front of you and not be able to help him. At 7 pm we managed in some way to find room for the mother, Hawa and the younger child, Foday. They seemed to be the more serious cases; for the other two, we couldn’t do anything – not one bed free in any hospital in or near the capital of Freetown. Alpha Sesay, the 40-year old father, and his daughter Fatmata had to stay there, crouched just outside the gates, with the guards making sure that no-one came too close.
I left the Lakka Center just before 8 pm, in the rain. I looked at those two sick, drenched bodies for a few seconds, then I couldn’t take it any more and I turned my head away. They came back into my mind during the night, when I was woken by the torrents of water from the storms that mark the end of the rainy season. On Friday morning the sun was shining when I got to the hospital. The two patients were still there, but they were no longer alone. Another Ebola case had arrived at 6 am, and two others would join them before midday. In the Center, one patient had recovered (the Ebola test gave a negative result) and a woman died just before dawn. We were able to take in Alpha and Fatmata. The others had to stay outside, with the struggle between these desperate people going on day after day, as they search for help. Hawa’s condition worsened in the afternoon, and she died two hours later. The rest of the family is getting the necessary treatment. Little Foday is still in a critical condition today (Monday); he’s showing bleeding from the mucous membranes. We can only hope.