Irish neighbours rally to support brother of tragic Ebola crusader
Published 07/08/2014 | 02:30
The brother of a medic who has led West Africa's fight against the Ebola virus has been inundated with letters at his Irish home since his sibling died from the disease last week.
Amadu Khan held a picture of Sierra Leone's "national hero" as he recalled that his brother "was passionate about finding ways to fight this disease".
Mr Khan, who lives in the Cork village of Rathcormac, says the death of Dr Sheik Umar Khan has badly affected his home country.
The leading medical expert was treating 120 Ebola sufferers when he contracted the disease and passed away in a quarantined zone run by the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.
"I still can't believe he's gone, he was a huge character and his death has hit my home country hard. Some are asking: 'If even he couldn't stop this disease getting to him what chance do they have?'" Amadu told the Irish Independent.
An award-winning international journalist, human rights campaigner and former lecturer on social studies at the University of Edinburgh, Amadu had just moved to Ireland from Scotland with his Irish fiancée, Breda, when word filtered through that his brother had contracted the disease.
Dr Khan (39) recently spoke of how he was "afraid for my life, because I cherish myself" but he continued to help those suffering from the virus. The Sierra Leone government has described him as a "national hero".
And just days before his death, Amadu emailed his brother directing him towards a Canadian study which suggested Ebola could be transmitted in the air and not just through contact.
"I wanted to warn him and to make sure he read this study and was being extra careful," said Amadu.
"One Saturday morning Umar felt unwell and he tested himself for Ebola but the results were negative.
"He took Malaria medication but the symptoms continued so he tested himself for a second time - again the result was negative. It was after a third test that he realised he had contracted the virus and he asked to be sent to the quarantined area immediately," said Amadu.
It was on the way home from a playground with his son that Amadu, who left Sierra Leone 17 years ago, got the call from another brother to say Umar, a father of two, had lost his battle with the disease he knew so well.
"Of course Umar knew the risks but still I couldn't believe it when I heard it had taken him.
"He really was a truly great man who sacrificed so much for what he believed in. He was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. All he was thinking about was helping people."
A German air ambulance was sitting on the tarmac at Freetown airport in the days before Dr Khan's death, waiting to fly him to Germany for treatment but the world-renowned expert was too weak to travel.
Last Friday the parish priest in Rathcormac, Fr Nelius O'Donnell, held a service in Amadu's home for his family and friend.
"The support I've received in Ireland has been incredible and now I just hope and pray that somehow this virus can be contained," said Amadu.
The World Health Organisation reported 45 new deaths in the three days to August 4.
Its experts began an emergency meeting in Geneva yesterday to discuss whether the epidemic constituted a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern' and to consider new measures to contain it, including the possible use of experimental drug treatments.
"This outbreak is unprecedented and out of control," said Walter Lorenzi, head of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Sierra Leone. "We have a desperate need for others on the ground - not in offices or in meetings - but with their rubber gloves on, in the field."