A British doctor fighting the devastating Ebola outbreak in west Africa has told how belief in witchcraft is hampering the fight to stop the spread of the deadly disease.
Benjamin Black, 32, a volunteer with the charity Médecins Sans Frontières in Sierra Leone, said that some of those in infected areas were not seeking medical treatment as they thought the disease was the work of sorcerers. Belief in witchcraft and traditional medicine is still prevalent in parts of west Africa, particularly the remote rural areas of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia where the outbreak has been concentrated.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Dr Black, who completed a four-day stint earlier this week at an Ebola treatment clinic in Kailahun, near Sierra Leone’s northern border with Guinea, said: “There is a section of population here who simply don’t believe Ebola is real, they think it is witchcraft and so they don’t come to the treatment centres.
“Sometimes, even those who turn up at clinics with symptoms of the disease will be resistant to the idea that they have it. They will say ‘yes, people in my family have died already, but this is witchcraft rather than Ebola’.”….
….But doctors can go on certain warning signs, in particular patients saying that they have recently attended a funeral of a friend or relative. Local funeral customs often include the practice of touching and kissing loved ones’ bodies, which by that stage are a prime incubator of Ebola.
Dr Black added that many of those referred to the clinic were children, some of whom had already lost both their parents to the disease. “We had one ambulance turn up with a mother and a child in it, but the mother had died during the journey to the clinic, leaving her daughter of eight on her own,” he said.
Ebola has a fatality of around 90 per cent, but if treated early enough, patients can fight the disease off.
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