Feeling The Heat, Burning The Suits: Reporting On Ebola From Sierra Leone
NPR’s Jason Beaubien is in Sierra Leone, covering the Ebola outbreak that began in March in Guinea and has spread to neighboring countries. When we spoke Thursday, he had just toured the treatment center built by Doctors Without Borders in the town of Kailahun. With 64 beds, it’s the largest Ebola isolation ward ever built. Currently there are 31 patients.
How’s it going?
Never a dull day here.
Can you describe the treatment center?
It’s basically a compound with a series of different tents. There are tents where people get suited up to go in. Another tent seems to be for storage, and one of the tents contains a lab. Then there’s a double fence about 3 1/2 feet high, made of orange plastic mesh. They designed the fence so people can see where the patients are, so it wouldn’t seem as if the patients are completely walled off.
Why a double fence?
So no one can get within 6 feet of someone who has Ebola. In case a patient from the isolation area reaches out or vomits, [Doctors Without Borders] wants to make sure there won’t be any accidental contamination.
How do the doctors record information on the patients?
Doctors go into the isolation area completely suited up, do their rounds and write down what’s happening with patients. Then they stand next to the fence and shout out to people on the other side of the fence [information about each patient]. Say, for patient 105, the doctor says, “diarrhea, vomiting.” Then the doctor’s notes [made inside the isolation area] are burned.
Where do they burn the notes?
They have a big pit in the back.
What else do they burn?
They burn everything. They say nothing comes out of isolation — although obviously they’re taking blood samples out. People come out. They strip off their protective gear, the Tyvek suits they put over their entire body and shoes.
Top: Construction workers repair the roof inside the isolation area at the Doctors Without Borders treatment center in Kailahun.
Bottom: All workers in the isolation area must wear a head-to-toe protective suit.
Photos by Tommy Trenchard for NPR