AWAITING THE DEADLY VERDICT OF EBOLA OR NO EBOLA
By Boakai Golafale
On 3 September 2014, I came across a story posted on the FrontPage Africa website entitled “Carrier Doom- Senegal Raises Stake Over Ebola Transporters." The story is about the reaction of aggrieved government officials of Nigeria and Senegal who feel that their countries were infected by individuals who knew their EBOLA status but still chose to go abroad to infect others. Both are grim reminders of how Patrick Sawyer in Liberia and another Guinean student fled their countries to carry Ebola to countries before unaffected. It smacks of all the pains of betrayal, suspicion, anger, frustration and finger pointing. After reading this article, I am prompted in a similar fashion to bring the story to light about how a suspected Ebola patient now deceased was surreptitiously transported to a rural town in Cape Mount County thereby allegedly infecting more than 25 persons who are now awaiting the frightening and anxious result of a test to determine if they are Ebola positive or not.
The township of Damballa is about an hour’s drive inland from Tiene which is the closest town to the Bo Waterside Liberian-Sierra Leonean border post. Even though the town has no economic significance such as the famous Lake Piso in Robertsport or the diamond rich Lofa Bridge, Damballa notwithstanding is of strategic importance to the people of Grand Cape Mount County in Western Liberia. Damballa is the biggest town in Porkpa District with a population of over 5000 persons. It has the biggest health center in the area with a 10 Bedroom clinic and a Junior High School that is being upgraded to a high school status. Additionally the town boasts a host of prominent personalities who have served in high government positions and in the private sector in past and present. The Late Supreme Court Judge Counselor Elwood Jangaba and his late brother Fmr Senate Pro Tempore Tambakai A Jangaba, Dr. Kanda Golafale, Fmr Asst Minister of Land and Mines Mr. James B. Konuwa and Chief Medical Officer of Firestone Hospital, Dr. Lyndon Mabande are few of the big names from this town. Since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus in Liberia, the people of this rural town have remained for the most part unaffected by the ravages of the pandemic now raging in other communities in the county. Rumors only had it that an EBOLA related death had occurred in a nearby town, but so far it was only a rumor. But on a quiet Saturday evening on 30 Aug 2014 all this would change.
On that fateful day, unknown to most people a commercial vehicle arrived in Damballa around 6:30 PM in the evening carrying over 20 bags of rice and a very sick and helpless man called Mohammed Konneh. Unable to walk unassisted, the man famous in that part of the country as a commercial car driver was taken from the vehicle into a house on the back of another person. The story now unfolding states that prior to his arrival in Damballa, he has for than a week lain sick in the house in the Kuwait area near Duala Market having come in contact with a woman who tested positive for EBOLA and died. Whether his wife and another family member in Damballa knew these facts but ignored the warning signs and still sent for the man to be brought from Monrovia to Damballa for an herbal or country medicine treatment in such a state remains a mystery at this point.
But the truth now is when Konneh arrived in Damballa on that Saturday evening he was already in the advanced state of the disease. I received a call shortly from my brother in the town in an alarming voice saying to me that ‘Konneh has brought EBOLA to Damballa’. Before this he had called me every day to give an update on the state of the virus in that part of the country. Up to this point no one from the town has come in contact with the disease. So when Konneh arrived looking so weak and helpless, it did not go unnoticed. My source told me that before he was taken into the house for treatment, the patient was queried by the District Health Officer (DHO) in the town to determine if his case was Ebola related. The answer to five of the questions put to him all pointed to the disease.
This notwithstanding, Konneh was taken into the house by his wife and other relatives including a man who administered the medication and helped to clean the mess that he made. It was revealed that for the next 24 hours or so he was subsequently bathed, fed and chalked down with country medicine and catered to. During this period it is said that his condition continued to deteriorate on a daily basis.
On Sunday 31 August 2014 afternoon the patient was showing all the symptoms of full blown EBOLA including severe diarrhea and vomiting with blood. It was at this point that the care givers became alarmed and abandoned the patient in the house. Consequently other people in the town who have been following the unfolding event moved in to immediately assess the situation and identify all those who have come in contact with the sick man. The number was well over 25 persons. These were quarantined in a separate building by health workers and local leaders who cautioned others not to make any further contacts with them until an Ebola Response Team (ERT) arrived in the town.
As expected the Konneh’s condition did not improve any further until he died at 0230 hrs on Tuesday 2 September 2014. After his death locals in the town made several calls to the ERT to inform them, but just as it had been since Sunday when the man’s condition had begun to worsen, the answer to the calls were always ‘we are on our way’. But the team finally arrived around 1800 hrs on that Tuesday evening, removed the body, sprayed the house and buried the corpse with the assistance of locals using flash lights.
With that burial, the story of the man who brought the strange disease to Damballa might have come to an end. But the fate of countless number of people including the driver and more than 25 other persons with whom he came in contact remains a matter of grave concern at this moment. There have been conflicting reports that the vehicle that took him from Monrovia to Damballa has been impounded and the driver is on the run. But again at this point, it is just rumor.
The story of Mohammed Konneh and how he allegedly took this strange disease to Damballa is reminiscent of many others in West Africa especially Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia where EBOLA has ravaged the most. At this point let it just be called a strange disease because even members of the burial team who removed the remains of this man said that it would only be known that it is EBOLA after a thorough observation for a period of 21 days all the people the dead man came in contact with. But the whole saga only raises more questions now than answers. For instance why a man who showed clear symptoms of Ebola would be accepted by relatives for care when awareness about this disease is all over traditional and social media? Then again, how could he have crossed the vehicle checkpoints at Klay and Sinje where screening of all passengers are carried out by security and health workers for Ebola before being allowed to pass? A clear answer to these questions may never be known but one thing that is clear here is that people who have been saying that denial is a big factor in the spread of the Ebola virus in Liberia are just been proven one more time right. And for those who are awaiting the 21 days to know their status of whether or not they will come down with EBOLA, it is indeed like waiting for the verdict of a court trial whose sentence is already destined.
This article was written by Boakai Golafale, a native and concerned citizen of Damballa from an eyewitness account. Check FrontPage Africa website for article on “Carrier Doom- Senegal Raises Stake over Ebola Transporters.
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