As the death toll from Ebola mounts, with victims including health workers, some Liberians are staying away from hospitals and opting for self-medication.
Propped up on his bed in a bare room of his home in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, Rufus Moisemah reaches into a blue plastic bag and pulls out a little packet of pills, which he duly swallows.
“I have blood medicine here. I bought blood medicine," he explains.
A week ago, Moissemah became sick. He had a high fever and severe joint pain – symptoms of both malaria…and Ebola. Fearing the worst, and wanting to protect his family, he locked himself in his bedroom.
He chose not to go to hospital.
"If they look at me shivering, they'd say 'okay, then probably this is Ebola, put him where the other people are.’ If I don't have Ebola, just the mere fact that I am among them, I will contract Ebola. Two, the man that was treating patients at the hospital died from Ebola. So what’s the guarantee that if I go there, if I have Ebola, that I will be okay?" said Moissemah.
As the death toll from the deadly virus mounts in West Africa, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced a state of emergency earlier this week and lamented that panic and misinformation is keeping patients away from isolation centers.
“Ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices, continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease,'” said Johnson Sirleaf.
The death toll from Ebola passed 930 this week, according to the World Health Organisation, as health officials have struggled to cope with the crisis and, in some cases, have become victims of the disease themselves.
The risks of self-medication
But the Liberian president’s warning – as well as those of health officials – has failed to sway Moissemah as he continues to opt for self-medication.
Moissemah was lucky – he had malaria and is since feeling better.
But Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, founder and medical director of Hope For Women International, is all too familiar with the dangers of self-medication.
“People who are treating themselves at home run the risk of overdosing themselves or under-treating themselves, or not even treating the condition which they have,” explained Dr. Jallah. “We have a patient here that went to a drugstore, had an injection, and now has bilateral abscesses on his buttocks.”
When patients either don’t believe the disease is real or don’t trust the hospitals, they are also putting their families at risk.
"If this person, for any reason, is Ebola positive and family members are around, the person is not isolated. It means the entire family becomes contaminated. It makes it even more precarious in terms of containing the disease,” said Fayiah Tamba, Secretary General of the Red Cross in Liberia.
Despite all the public information efforts, Liberians are still scared. They believe that the country’s hospitals have become place of death, rather than treatment and cure.
Date created : 2014-08-07