Can the death of Ebola-infected Eric Duncan in a United States hospital teach us anything?
We believe it surely can. The first lesson we can learn is that none of us should take Ebola for granted. It can be, and often indeed is, a death sentence, though, as we have seen in the case of many survivors, it does not have to be.
When in 1976 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) reported the first Ebola outbreak, statistics showed that 90% of those infected died. Today in Liberia, statistics indicate that over 50% of the Ebola infected die.
This means that we are dealing with a highly dangerous, indeed deadly disease.
The second lesson we can learn from Eric’s death is that the minute we sense the symptoms, we should run to a treatment center. Once there, the ball is in the government’s court. The center must be prepared to receive the patient and begin immediate observation, treatment and care. Too many people have died unnecessarily because in their desperation, they have gone to treatment centers only to be turned back because of no space.
We are grateful for the good news that engineers of the Armed Forces of Liberia and the United States military contingent here are building new treatment centers in many parts of the country. We are also appreciative of the ELWA treatment center and others operated by Medecin Sans Frontier (MSF), which have been treating patients successfully and discharging them. We pray that construction work on the new centers will be expeditiously completed, so that the infected may receive immediate relief and healing.
The third lesson we can learn from our brother Eric is honesty. We are compelled to be honest with ourselves and all others around us. We must realize that it is highly dangerous to engage in what Winston Churchill called “terminological inexactitude,” which means a lie or untruth. See how far Duncan’s lie led him—all the way across the Atlantic and into contact with airline passengers and crew, as well as his fiancé and all the others in the home and neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. It is only by the grace of God that so far, no one has been found to have been infected by him. Let us pray it remains that way. The fact is that if we are not honest with ourselves we could infect others, as we saw in the case of Miss Liberia in Caldwell, where she and several others in the household died.
We keep referring to great example of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bernice Dahn, and Madam Yah Zolia, both of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, who quarantined themselves the moment they discovered that they had been in contact with infected persons—who later died. That is the way to do it. In the process, many lives will be saved.
What next can we learn from Eric? Many Liberians interviewed following his death in a U.S. hospital said they were not surprised. They recalled that two U.S. citizens who traveled back to the USA with the same infection from the same Liberia were cured.
We cannot cast aspersion (misleading charge) on the Presbyterian Health Center where Eric was treated and died. We believe they did their best for him. The only problem was that when he first appeared there, with a temperature of 100 degrees, instead of immediately detecting an abnormality, they gave him tablets and let him go. There is a good chance that had they, knowing his nationality, tested him for Ebola, he might have had a chance of survival. But by the time he paid his second visit, it was apparently too late.
Our final point is about Liberians asking why did Eric die in an American hospital when two Americans were cured in American medical institutions. This seems to be a lesson we Liberians have difficulty learning: the Americans, like most other nationalities, know how to look after one another. Do we in Liberia? NO! We prefer looking after other people rather than ourselves. See how two Lebanese rapists who viciously assaulted Liberian women were freed by Liberian courts.
What is the lesson there?