Sunday, April 13, 2014
FIrst Ebola Survivors Return to Family, Stigma Remains
Hiccups, say doctors in this remote corner of Guinea, are the final tell-tale sign of infection by the Ebola virus that has killed more than 100 people since an outbreak began this year. Then come profuse bleeding, circulatory shock and death.
But for Rose Komano, the hiccups never came. On Saturday, the 18-year-old mother of three became the first victim to have beaten the disease in the region of Gueckedou, epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in this impoverished West African nation.
In total, 98 people are thought to have died from the disease in Guinea and 10 more in neighboring Liberia, according to aid workers and government officials.
A market town of 220,000 people near the Liberia and Sierra Leone borders, Gueckedou's makeshift clinic is on the front line of Guinea's battle to contain its first outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever, normally found in Central Africa.
Medecins sans FrontiEeres [MSF] - also known as Doctors Without Borders - a medical charity working to contain the virus, has set up two tin-roofed tents in the courtyard of the local health center. One is for suspected Ebola cases and the other is for confirmed cases.
Now, to the delight of the overworked medical staff, they are building a third tent - for survivors.
“When I first saw the medical staff around me in yellow and black, I was scared. I thought I was going to die,” said Komano, who buried her mother and grandmother days earlier after they died from the disease.
“I didn't believe I would recover my health again. I was scared that I would orphan my children - like my mother did me - but now I can hold them in my arms again,” she said.
Eight people have now recovered from the Ebola virus, according to medical tests. The virulent Zaire strain of the disease in Guinea has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.
Lucky genes and intensive medical care helped Komano become one of the handful to escape death. Other patients were cleared to go home from the Donko hospital in Conakry last week in what the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed “Lazarus” cases - after the Biblical figure restored to life by Jesus.
Komano's 12-year-old niece and her sister also are recovering as the levels of virus in their blood fall.
But for this family, living in a remote part of Guinea where traditional beliefs are held in high regard, the real battle may have only just begun.
Chocolate, Nescafe and raw onions
In past outbreaks, the sick were abandoned by their families or just dropped off at the isolation wards. If you survived, nobody would talk to you or touch you, said Ella Watson-Stryker, in charge of health promotion for MSF in Gueckedou.
“Ebola disease transmission is not understood at a biological level in remote villages across Africa where people believe in witchcraft and traditional medicine,” she said.
“It's sad because people really do want some sort of magic potion or cure but unfortunately all we can tell them to do is wash their hands,” Watson-Stryker said.
SMS messages circulating in the country claimed that a Guinean medical researcher in Senegal has found the cure for Ebola - hot chocolate, Nescafe, milk, sugar and raw onions taken once a day for three days. In nearby Macenta, an angry mob attacked an MSF clinic, accusing the organization of bringing the deadly virus to their town, forcing it to shut down.
The MSF team has been helping to educate people on how the disease spreads and how it can be prevented. The team is starting to reintegrate patients who have survived the virus.
“We try to make sure that everyone understands once someone is no longer sick, they really cannot continue to spread the disease,” said Watson-Stryker, noting fewer people were asking their staff about witchcraft than at the start of the outbreak.
For Komano, the initial signs are good. When she returns to her village, her family and friends cheer loudly and come out to hug her, a considerable leap of faith in a country where many people are now too afraid to shake hands.
“I feel much better and I'm ready to go home. There's laundry to be done and I need to clean the house,” she said.
at 4:25 AM
Friday, April 11, 2014
My first Operating system
I am a technophile and unashamedly so. Technology has simplified human life so much that sometimes I am amazed at people who still hold on to the old ways of doing things, blissfully oblivious of just how easy life has become, especially in the first world, due to the astonishing progression in technological innovation. By leaps and bounds I can say.
Two people who have had such a significant influence on the modern technological world as we know it are the late Steve Jobs of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft. In recent years, Steve Jobs changed how we do almost everything. Honorable mention goes to my friends at Google, though when it comes to operating systems, they are very clever copycats of Apple. Unfortunately their Android phones are now way ahead of the iPhone in many aspects and I am sorry to say that I no longer even want an iPhone.
|The Good Old Days|
Just imagine the world about 7 years ago when there was no iPhone or Galaxy S4. Imagine a day in the life of a busy mid level manager who traveled to a city to attend a conference just 7 years ago. He gets up to the loud whirring of his alarm clock which he carries around at all times like a religious artifact. He calls the hotel lobby and asks for directions to the nearest Starbucks coffee shop and then grabs a city map and a newspaper, rushing to get a cup of regular coffee, while studying the map intensely for directions to the conference hall. He then pulls out his phone book with all his numbers, thumbs through and calls his boss from the payphone to tell him he is going to be on time. That was seven years ago.
Now imagine the same manager today in the same situation. He wakes up to the most pleasant alarm song he has programmed on his Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone with 4G. He browses through the Flipboard app on his phone to get the latest news. He then opens the Pandora app to listen to his customized 80s radio and listens to great music transmitted wirelessly from the phone to his palm sized portable Bluetooth JBL speakers as he jumps into the shower.
After he's showered and done dressing, he picks up the phone, hits the middle button at the base of the screen and says "Galaxy can you find me the nearest Starbucks?"
The phone replies right away and gives him a choice of several Starbucks in the vicinity of his hotel, while the phone screen shows him the map of the Starbucks locations. He then tells the phone to take him to one and the phone map becomes a GPS navigational system that he uses in his car while continuing to listen to his 80s music through the car's Bluetooth speakers. He tells the phone to call his manager without touching it, the phone does and he tellsthe manager he will be on time for the conference, while the phone's GPS tells him that he is at Starbucks. He then browses through his online bank account to see whether the check he was promised has been deposited.
This week Microsoft decided that they were no longer going to be providing support for the much beloved Windows XP. To me XP is the best Windows operating system I've used, matched only by Windows 7. It was my first operating system. When I came to America from Sierra Leone, I had never touched a computer, let alone know how to use one. Our education back in my country was basically with a notebook and a pen. The only technology that was available was a scientific calculator which had been extremely useful in confirming the answers to statistics questions on tests and exams. In Sierra Leone, we were prevented from using calculators in exams, and that's the truth! We used sliders.
|My First Computer|
When I got my first computer, a Dell Dimension 4550, the only thing I knew about computers after a Semester in college, was reading an email. I read my Dell computer manual from cover to cover. I made sure I followed every "do not" advice. Very soon I knew everything about the computer that was in the manual. So I bought a book on Windows XP. It was like my computer bible. By the end of the year, I knew everything a consumer was to know about a computer and became somewhat of a computer repair guy in my Sierra Leone community. I had discovered system restore! Lol.
I remember one day a friend of mine was having some serious problems with his computer and wanted to take it to Best Buy for repairs. Luckily he called me to take a look. I asked him when he had the problem, he said about two weeks ago. I set System Restore for three weeks and it worked like magic. I saved the poor fellow a couple of hundred dollars and I then also became an expert in HP desktops in addition to my Dell. Anytime he had a problem, guess who he called.
Then a great thing happened, YouTube came along and do it yourself people like me found heaven. YouTube is easily the greatest source of human knowledge that has been compiled in one place since the encyclopedia Britannica. There is almost nothing you will want to do for which you will not find a video on YouTube. Last Christmas I impressed a group of friends with some Hispanic food I made and everybody was really floored by my culinary skills. Guess what, I got the recipe and detailed instructions from a YouTube video! Don't tell anybody. Through YouTube videos, I was able to increase the memory on my computer from 250mb to 4gb and my hard drive capacity from 70gb to 500gb and I have never taken a single computer class.
Windows XP was such a great operating system for novices like me that when the hideous Windows Vista replace it, it became the most hated operating system ever, rivaled only by the equally horrible Windows 8, which is truly an operating systems disaster that has made us all tightly embrace our Android phablets. Now that Windows has released office for the iPad, Windows needs to really get its act together, otherwise it risks losing out to Google's Chrome OS and the always reliable Macs.
Bye XP, this African from Sierra Leone will surely miss you, you were a reliable system, teacher and friend!
at 7:13 AM
Monday, March 31, 2014
|President Ellen Johnson Sierleaf|
New Ebola Worry
Having ravaged Southern Guinea for the past few weeks killing over 60 people, the highly deadly and contagious Ebola hemorrhagic fever caused by the dreaded Ebola virus has been confirmed in the neighboring republic of Liberia.
|Liberian Information Minister Brown|
Earlier denied Ebola in Liberia
World Health Organization (WHO) sources state that as of this Saturday March 29, 2014, seven specimens taken from individuals in Foya Kama in Lofa County, which borders Guinea and Eastern Sierra Leone, were tested for Ebola with two of the tests coming back positive. Among the suspected cases, there has already been two confirmed deaths from the outbreak.
The World Health Organization reports that blood work from a 35 year woman who died on March 21st tested positive for Ebola, as well as that from a 27 year old male patient who died on Thursday March 27th. As of now no cases of Ebola have been reported outside of Foya which shares boundaries with Kailahun District in Eastern Sierra Leone.
The Liberian authorities are collaborating closely with the world health organization and other health care NGOs to get a lid on the outbreak and restrict it's proliferation across the country. Already those who were in close contact with the confirmed cases have been isolated and rapid training in Ebola Virus management is being provided to workers at the Foya Hospital.
Health Care works from around the country are also being provided specific training in the identification and management of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF)
The government of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has set up a high level National Task Force to coordinate the response to the outbreak and provide leadership and a disease management strategic plan. The International Red Cross and other agencies are also actively involved in the response to this emerging catastrophe.
Based on current information, the World Health Organization is advising the governments of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to avoid imposing travel restrictions at the moment. However, each government is warned to be extremely vigilant.
Compiled From WHO reports.
at 12:40 AM
Saturday, March 29, 2014
|Blyden's Midnight Juju|
Of late I have been wondering whether Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, the Special Executive Assistant to Sierra Leone's President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and publisher of the Awareness Times gossip column is either a practical joker, has some marble loose somewhere, or is just plain mischievous.
Last year, spending just two weeks in America, she made up this story that members of the APC North American chapter have so much admired the work she is doing back in Freetown that they bought her a red Mercedes Benz. The uproar of the false claim almost fractured the North American branch of Sierra Leone's ruling party in USA, causing the chapter leaders to quickly release a statement rebuffing her claims in a bid to calm down frayed nerves. The woman is a mobile trouble magnet.
As if all her claims of being the target of almost everybody in Sierra Leone is not enough, now she has come out with this fantastic claim that at 11.00 pm sometime this month a mysterious four horned object mysteriously dropped out of nowhere, yes, just out of thin air and fell onto her house.
Not knowing what it was, she, a practicing Christian, a point she repeatedly emphasizes, did not send to call her pastor or church priest, but instead sent for one Dr. Sulaiman Kabba, who she claims is the President of Sierra Leone Traditional Healers Association or to put it in simpler terms, the country's Chief Juju man, officially recognized.
According to Dr. Blyden's own personal account the witch doctor quickly came to her house and dismantled the strange paraphernalia. The object as reported by the President's own personal assistant, consisted of horns, cowrie shells, the skin of a pussy cat (don't know if a zoologist was also at the scene), some monkey hair, mirror glasses, (last time I checked most mirrors are made of glass), red blood, and some other strange components.
|Blyden's Mysterious Horns|
Dr. Blyden is of the fervent belief that on that fateful night, she did come under sustained JuJu attack which she only repelled because, according to her, she is living in a house consecrated with the Holy Spirit and it was the power of this Holy Ghost that repelled the invisible "witch juju invaders." If this juju, Holy Spirit and consecrated house combo sounds confusing, then you need to take a trip to Freetown.
According to Blyden's rag, The Awareness Times, it was the Holy Spirit himself who was resident at her consecrated house that caused the mysterious object to morph from its hidden metaphysical form into the strange object that suddenly appeared on her doorstep in the middle of the night, causing her to summon the nation's most decorated witch doctor.
|Guinea needs Dr. Sulaiman Kabba|
Now if somebody had just told me this story as a rumor, I would have probably just dismissed it as somebody talking too much after a hefty plate of cassava leaves. But this is a story being peddled by the Special Executive Assistant to no other person than the country's President himself, and you wonder if somebody that close to the center of power and professing to be a trained medical doctor, would be that irresponsible to make such a public claim, the veracity of which depended solely on superstition.
You wonder whether this was the first time the witch doctor, Dr. Kabba, was summoned or whether he was also being summoned in times when decisions of national importance have to be made. A scary thought, when you think that economic decisions that will affect the destiny of our nation may now be made not on the basis of data from the central bank or Ministry of Finance, but from the mystical visions of the country's most celebrated witch doctor! The consultation of herbalists now becoming official government practice and policy; scary!
Sometimes thinking about Sierra Leone really saddens anybody with the capacity to think above a pussy cat. Here is a country that was the first in English Sub-Saharan Africa to have a University with graduates getting the same education as the leading British Universities at the time. Forward to many decades later we have a President who graduated from the same university, with a Special Executive Assistant professing to be a medical doctor, yet would believe that she is under attack by juju because the leading witch doctor in the country had told her so.
Now with the whole world looking for that missing Jumbo Jet, why can't we just call the Malaysian government and say "Hey Malays, you have been looking for that missing Jumbo Jet for several days now. Here is Dr. Kabba, the leading proponent of dark arts in our country. Take him to the middle of the Indian Ocean and he will help you locate that plane before you can say Shokolokobangoshay.
Probably this elevation of mediocrity is the reason why occasionally people look at you quite strangely when you tell them that you are from Sierra Leone. They sometimes tend to look at you as if you are an interesting biological specimen for dissection. "Lets put him on a table, and see what the brain of an elemental moron looks like."
The next thing Dr. Kabba will tell SOB is that the witch plane came from either Makeni or Kono. The pilot will likely be a young man, fair in complexion, with a popular weekly radio program that starts with an M, go figure.
As we say in Freetown, "Ayyyy Salone!"
at 12:29 PM
Friday, March 28, 2014
|Suspected Ebola Case Conakry|
In Conakry, medical teams have now been assembled to locate and isolate suspected cases in the city. Guinean authorities have banned the eating of raw bat and monkey meat, which are believed to be the main vectors of the highly contagious and fatal virus.
The Guinean government has also appealed to the residents of the capital not to give in to panic, but to be very cautious in practicing basic hygiene, avoid eating raw bush meat, avoid interacting with people who are believed to be at risk, and reporting suspected cases promptly.
The confirmed cases of Ebola in Guinee have now exceeded 103 with at least 66 deaths and the tendency of the virus to wipe out entire families has brought the city to a state of near total panic. Health authorities in neighboring Sierra Leone have also started educating the citizens about the virus and warning them to take basic hygiene very seriously.
Ebola usually starts with malaria like symptoms characterized by general weakness, fever with chills, muscle, joint and chest pain. Those afflicted may also suffer nausea with vomiting and diarrhea. People may also develop respiratory symptoms with swelling of the neck, sore throat, coughs, shortness of breath and hiccups. Severe headache, agitation, confusion and seizures may also be present. Those infected may also start bleeding from the nose, ears and mucus membranes, including reproductive organs.
The Ebola virus has so many different symptoms that are similar to other tropical infections that most times the only way it is confidently diagnosed is when the health care workers taking care of the patients become sick themselves. The disease has no cure and has a fatality rate of 90% and it is only controlled by isolating those afflicted and strictly controlling their movement. This is the first reported case of Ebola in West Africa.
Ebola symptoms closely resembles symptoms of Lassa Fever, another hemorrhagic fever that originated from the village of Lassa in Nigeria and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Segbwema, Tongo, Kenema and other main towns in Eastern Sierra Leone in the late 70s, 80s and 90s. The main Lassa fever research project in the country was located in Nixon Memorial Hospital in Segbwema and was one of the top most scientific medical research projects in a West Africa. Unfortunately the project became a victim of the country's civil war, was relocated to Kenema and lost a lot of its exemplary health care workers.
at 9:49 PM