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Eating and Praying in a Terrifying Battle With Ebola

Published: 02nd February 2015 08:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd February 2015 08:51 AM   |  A+A-

Sierra Leone-ebola-AP

A file photo of doctors treating an Ebola victim (AP)

SIERRA LEONE: Every morning for the past three months, the rounds of the Ebola quarantine officer for the Kissy district of Freetown have included a visit to the Camara family compound.

Stopping outside the front yard of a shack that is cordoned off by a rope, Bisordu Ejon reads out a list of occupants, asking if they are still alive. The list used to run to 28 names. Now, only four are left.

"I ask what has happened overnight," said Mr Ejon. "If I don't see them, or they come out sick, I call an ambulance."

As Sierra Leone battles to contain its Ebola outbreak, the task of men like Mr Ejon is reminiscent of that of the "searchers" - the officials who combed London during the Great Plague of 1665, with their infamous call of "bring out your dead".

In Sierra Leone, red crosses are no longer painted on the doors of infected houses. But some of the other measures in force would not look out of place in the plague diaries of Samuel Pepys.

Just as the plague spread mainly through London's rat-infested slums, Ebola's worst outbreaks have been in townships like Kissy, a vast favela that creeps up a mountain.

And just as households that recorded a plague case underwent quarantine for 40 days, households in Sierra Leone that host an Ebola case remain isolated for three weeks, with police posted outside to stop the residents fleeing.

If a fresh infection develops within those three weeks, the quarantine starts over again, even though it means a prolonged risk of exposure for healthy residents. The Camara household is a case in point. Since a case was first recorded there three months ago, it has undergone four separate periods of quarantine. Residents of two neighbouring shacks have also become infected.

For those inside, life has become like a macabre version of Big Brother as, one by one, relations and neighbours have died. Twenty of the 28 are dead, and of the survivors, four are currently in Ebola treatment units after developing suspected symptoms.

"There is little to do except wake up, listen to the radio, eat and pray," said Samuel Camara, 33, whose father, stepmother and 14-year-old sister have all died. "I cannot explain how bad it is. I am terrified I will get the disease."

Such scenes are repeated in quarantine zones all over Sierra Leone, where around 3,000 of the 8,000 deaths from the Ebola outbreak have occurred. However, while quarantined families in the Middle Ages would also run the risk of starvation, in Sierra Leone there are people willing to supply them with food.

When The Daily Telegraph visited the Camara family compound recently, it was with representatives from Plan International, the charity, which does supply runs for quarantined homes around Freetown. The work is funded by a pounds 4.5?million grant from Britain's Department for International Development (Dfid).

Still, although most may not be going hungry, gaps in the system remain. Mr Camara has now spent 90 days in quarantine because those around him keep falling ill. The longer he remains, the greater the chance he too will become infected.

In an ideal world, he would have been isolated separately, but there are simply not the resources to do that.

And while the food supplies may fill the stomach, nothing can address the sense of emptiness in the Camara compound as its numbers dwindle. "We appreciate the food," said Mr Camara. "But it's not easy to sit in this place all the time with a broken heart."

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