Monday 20 October 2014

Irish doctor tells of daily heartbreak treating Ebola in Sierra Leone

Published 09/08/2014 | 09:09

Dr Gabriel Fitzpatrick with Medicins San Frontiers tackling Ebola virus
Dr Gabriel Fitzpatrick with Medicins San Frontiers tackling Ebola virus

Dublin doctor Gabriel Fitzpatrick has said working in the Ebola treatment centres in Sierra Leone goes against natural human instincts as the outbreak is declared an international emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) .

"There are a few rules in the Ebola treatment centre that are sometimes difficult to remember and go against our natural instincts," said Dr Fitzpatrick, from Killester.

"Firstly, shaking hands with anybody is forbidden and you must keep a certain distance away at all times."

Dr Fitzpatrick left his wife and child for Sierra Leone last Friday without a return ticket.

The death toll now stands at 932 since the world's biggest outbreak of the deadly virus struck last March.

The father of one, who works in public health in Ireland, is volunteering for Medicins Sans Frontieres at the epicentre of the outbreak in Kailahun.

Despite the importance of the work he is carrying out, Dr Fitzpatrick said it is still difficult emotionally.

"Yesterday in the suspected cases ward I saw a small child getting his nappy changed by one of the nurses who was wearing a full-body protective plastic suit," he said.

"The child was clinging to the nurse and searching and hoping for comfort in a place which does not allow direct skin to skin contact.

"As a father myself, this image stuck in my mind.

"On the same evening a mother and her two children were admitted to the hospital with confirmed Ebola.

"It really was a heartbreaking sight."

There have now been 1,711 cases of the virus confirmed, with eight of those in Nigeria.

The first rumoured case was reported last February in Guinea, but it was not confirmed until March.

The virus is carried by bats, and it has been established that people presenting with symptoms in Guinea had been hunting bats before the outbreak was confirmed.

A spokesman for Goal said that people in West Africa are experiencing high levels of fear around the virus as there is a great deal of misinformation circulating.

Goal will send an Irish staff member to Sierra Leone tomorrow to head up its team of 200 for its emergency response.

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