In an unfortunate twist of fate, one of the leading doctors treating the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has himself contracted the virus. Sheik Umar Khan was celebrated in his homeland of Sierra Leone for his efforts to both control the virus and personally treat over 100 infected patients. Now ill with a disease that kills nearly all of its victims, the world holds it breath and awaits news of Khan’s condition.
Worst Ebola Outbreak On Record
The current outbreak occurring in West Africa is officially the worst Ebola virus outbreak in recorded history, Think Progress reported. It was only last month the senior official for Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, announced that he considered the outbreak to be “totally out of control.” Now with news of lead doctor in the region falling ill with the very virus he was fighting to control, it doesn’t seem that conditions are looking much better.
Khan Falls Ill
Reuters reported the 39-year-old virologist had been transferred to a treatment ward run by Doctors Without Borders. As of now, there is no other news of the doctor’s current condition. Khan is being treated for his symptoms; however, currently there is no cure or vaccine against the virus. There is one ray of hope. Although the usual mortality rate of Ebola is around 90 percent, the current outbreak strain only seems to kill about 60 percent of those infected.
Khan’s illness is a solemn reminder of the extreme dangers that health workers in the region face every day. Ebola is passed via human fluids such as blood, saliva, or urine, so the need for sterility is of upmost importance. Unfortunately, reports from doctors working on the front lines paint a picture of low supplies of protective gear and health workers being forced to share and ration the little lifesaving supplies they do have. “This is worse than expected. I am fearful that it could get much worse,” Robert Garry, a virologist and specialist in viral hemorrhagic fevers at Tulane University, explained to NBC News.
Hardship Facing Health Care Workers
On top of the massive deficit of much needed supplies, health workers are facing the hysteria of frightened citizens. Reports of panicked residents attacking the very health workers trying to help them are continuing to come with. In Sierra Leone, frightened residents went as far as to burn down the treatment center due to fears that drugs given to the victims to keep them alive had actually infected them with the virus, Mashable reported. "We are seeing a lot of mistrust, intimidation and hostility from part of the population," Marc Poncin, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea, explained to Reuters, in reference to another incidence.
Still, despite the mounting obstacles health officials face, they are continuing to treat sick patients and work to control the outbreak. “If we are to break the chain of Ebola transmission, it is crucial to combat the fear surrounding it and earn the trust of communities,” Manuel Fontain, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa explained.