Dr. Tom Fletcher, a WHO physician (left) is pictured with Abdullah, an Ebola survivor in Guinea. Image courtesy of WHO/M-A. Heine
When Abdullah D. saw a doctor in the hospital close to his home in Conakry in late March 2014, he had high fever, headaches and felt very weak. The doctor immediately called in the infectious disease experts who arranged for Abdullah to be admitted to the country’s isolation facility at Donka, one of the biggest hospitals in the Guinean capital Conakry. When a laboratory test confirmed that Abdullah was infected with Ebola, he was devastated.
"I spent 10 days in the isolation ward,” says the 29-year-old father of twins who works as a retailer in the Guinean capital. “I was convinced that I would never again see my wife and kids.”
Abdullah was cared for by specialists from the Guinean Ministry of Health supported by doctors and nurses from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and WHO, who are working together to run the isolation ward at Donka Teaching Hospital.
"Abdullah was very weak and unwell when he first arrived at Donka," says Dr. Tom Fletcher, a WHO infectious disease expert who came to Guinea to help with the outbreak response. "I wasn’t sure he would survive. But his case shows that the care people are getting in the isolation ward is crucial and improves their odds of survival."
There is neither a vaccine nor a specific treatment for Ebola virus disease. People who are severely ill with the disease require intensive medical support including oral rehydration salts or an intravenous drip for extra fluids, antimicrobial medicines, pain killers and nutritious food. The earlier they go to hospital and get appropriate care the higher their chance of survival.
By April 14, 2014, more than 100 people had been confirmed or suspected of having contracted Ebola in Guinea and more than half had died. But to-date, nine patients who were admitted to this hospital have recovered and returned home in good health.
But recovery is not always the end of the battle for former Ebola patients. Many find it difficult to be accepted by their neighbours who are fearful of the disease.
Fanta S., a 24-year-old teacher from Conakry, who returned home after laboratory tests showed she was no longer infected with Ebola, felt the stigma of the disease.
“Many people were shocked to see me alive and looked at me as if they were seeing a ghost,” she said during a check-up at hospital a few days after her release. “My family supported me, but I closed myself up in my room and cried for two hours.” She is still not sure when she will be allowed back at work.
Doctors and nurses at Donka fought for Abdullah’s life for five days. Finally, his condition improved and his fever went down. When he had gone a couple of days without any symptoms including fever, diarrhoea, vomiting or bleeding, they took a new blood sample.
Abdullah waited impatiently for the results and was incredibly pleased and relieved when he heard that the sample was negative.
“I felt as if I was reborn and could not wait to hug my twins again,” he says. “The doctors really took great care of me and I’m telling everyone that people who are infected need to go to the hospital.”
While it is safe for Abdullah to interact with others in his community, he will have to take some precautions when it comes to his bodily fluids, as the virus can remain there for at least three months. For example, he will have to use condoms to ensure that he doesn’t pass the virus to his wife. But doctors hope he will never be able to contract Ebola Zaire again.