Ebola Patients’ Trust in Witch Doctors is Costing Lives

witch doctorThe case of a “missing” Ebola patient who died after her family removed her from a Sierra Leone hospital and took her to a herbalist for treatment highlights the deep distrust of Western medicine that exists in some of the worst hit areas of the outbreak.

Breitbart’s Frances Martel is reporting that a woman known as the “runaway Ebola patient” who checked into King Harman Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, last week was eventually found by authorities but died in an ambulance en route to a hospital. The woman’s family had forcibly removed her from the hospital in order to bring her to a trusted herbalist, an action that sparked panic in the medical community and triggered an extensive police search.

“The disease grows increasingly contagious as the symptoms worsen and the patient discharges more blood; having a loose patient in an unknown location in the nation’s capital is akin to a biological weapon,” writes Martel about the hemorrhagic fever that kills more than 60 percent of its victims.

The case highlights one of the biggest problems facing medical personnel in this area of the world – a deep distrust of western medicine. As Martel report, villagers in hard hit areas of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia view groups such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders with hostility with some believing they brought the disease to their villages. In some places, villagers run away when they see a Western aid worker.

However, in some cases, violence has ensued, such as when an angry mob in Guinea attacked a Doctors Without Borders office, accusing the organization of bringing Ebola to their town.

Reuters is reporting that in some places in Sierra Leone, where 450 have already died from the disease, angry crowds gathered outside hospitals protesting what they believe is a conspiracy to infect their towns. Some threatened to burn down buildings and remove patients – actions that would only make the epidemic worse than it already is.

Ebola virus

Ebola virus

In the meantime, an unknown number of villagers are seeking help from witch doctors and traditional herbalists, ingesting things like raw onions and condensed milk with the hopes of curing themselves.

According to The Economist, many villagers believe that those who succumb to the disease are victims of a curse fired by a “witch gun”.

“Only a witch doctor can have the curse removed—for a fee,” the article states.

As a result, official health care workers are facing sometimes physical resistance from infected persons or are being denied access to them by their family members. In one case, villagers stoned medical staff who were trying to remove highly infectious Ebola patients from a  health center.

Amara Jambai, director of disease prevention and control in Sierra  Leone admits that “Many cases stay in the communities because people still like to use alternative sources of treatment. So we miss a lot of cases and only capture a few.”

This attitude has no doubt contributed to the rapid spread of the disease, which is now encompassing  Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 700 people have already died. A new case was just found in Nigeria, brought into the country via a man traveling by plane, which has prompted worldwide alerts to health officials who fear the deadly virus is now only one plane ride away from their shores.

As a result, countries around the world, including the U.S., are now taking precautions to make sure no one with Ebola enters their country.

According to ABC News, airline workers in the U.S. are being trained to spot symptoms of the disease – which included fever, red eyes and bleeding. Quarantine officers have been stationed in 20 major U.S. airports such as JFK in New York, and are standing by in the event of an in-flight illness.

But there’s only so much that can be done to prevent the disease from entering the country.

“There’s nothing to prevent someone traveling here asymptomatically during the incubation period,” said ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, who served as acting director of the CDC during the swine flu outbreak. “It’s one of the reasons we have a vested interest in helping to control outbreaks where they start.”

This means those on the ground in the West African nations where the disease is currently raging will continue to battle not only one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the primitive belief systems of the very patients they want to help.

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