fighting ebola Marcus Dipaola/ZumaPress

Dying to Live

The full scope of West Africa's recent Ebola epidemic – which caused three countries to grind to a halt, took thousands of lives, and shattered many more – remains unknown. But Sierra Leone is committed to getting the number of Ebola cases to zero, and doing what it takes to prevent a future outbreak.

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE – I was a young medical officer working at the Emergency Unit of the Ola During Children’s Hospital in Sierra Leone when I advised the mother of a child with severe malaria to tell a blatant lie. Her daughter Mariama needed a life-saving blood transfusion. But her mother had no money to pay for the screening tests and to compensate the blood donor. I had seen many children die while their parents frantically sought the necessary funds.

Determined to save Mariama’s life, I told her mother to go home and announce the death of her daughter. I knew this would provoke the sympathy of her relatives, and they would scrape together their meager resources to ensure a proper funeral. The mother agreed, and when she returned six hours later, she threw enough money on the table to cover all of Mariama’s care: a blood transfusion and treatment for malaria and worm infestation. A few days later, I discharged the still weak but recovering four-year-old from the hospital.

Though Mariama’s illness did not move her relatives to action, her death did. The same thing happened, on a much larger scale, during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

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