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Concept: Freetown

175

Poor quality housing is an infringement on the rights of all humans to a standard of living adequate for health. Among the many vulnerabilities of those without adequate shelter is the risk of disease spread by rodents and other pests. One such disease is Lassa fever, an acute and sometimes severe viral hemorrhagic illness endemic in West Africa. Lassa virus is maintained in the rodent Mastomys natalensis, commonly known as the “multimammate rat,” which frequently invades the domestic environment, putting humans at risk of Lassa fever. The highest reported incidence of Lassa fever in the world is consistently in the Kenema District of Sierra Leone, a region that was at the center of Sierra Leone’s civil war in which tens of thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of thousands of dwellings destroyed. Despite the end of the war in 2002, most of Kenema’s population still lives in inadequate housing that puts them at risk of rodent invasion and Lassa fever. Furthermore, despite years of health education and village hygiene campaigns, the incidence of Lassa fever in Kenema District appears to be increasing. We focus on Lassa fever as a matter of human rights, proposing a strategy to improve housing quality, and discuss how housing equity has the potential to improve health equity and ultimately economic productivity in Sierra Leone. The manuscript is designed to spur discussion and action towards provision of housing and prevention of disease in one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone, Kenema District

148

Six-year-old Fatou was exposed to Ebola at her uncle’s funeral in Forécariah, a district along Guinea’s border with Sierra Leone where about 50% of all Guinea’s Ebola cases since February 2015 have occurred.(1) Fatou’s entire family was registered as contacts to be monitored for the next 21 days, during which the disease could develop. A contact tracer began making daily visits to check their temperatures and evaluate them for symptoms. For the first few days, everything seemed fine, but on the fifth day, Fatou was found to have fever and vomiting. A response team was dispatched to bring her to . . .

Concepts: West Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Economic Community of West African States, Currency, Guinea, Susu people

65

We conducted a case-control study in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to investigate ocular signs in Ebola virus disease (EVD) survivors. A total of 82 EVD survivors with ocular symptoms and 105 controls from asymptomatic civilian and military personnel and symptomatic eye clinic attendees underwent ophthalmic examination, including widefield retinal imaging. Snellen visual acuity was <6/7.5 in 75.6% (97.5% CI 63%-85.7%) of EVD survivors and 75.5% (97.5% CI 59.1%-87.9%) of controls. Unilateral white cataracts were present in 7.4% (97.5% CI 2.4%-16.7%) of EVD survivors and no controls. Aqueous humor from 2 EVD survivors with cataract but no anterior chamber inflammation were PCR-negative for Zaire Ebola virus, permitting cataract surgery. A novel retinal lesion following the anatomic distribution of the optic nerve axons occurred in 14.6% (97.5% CI 7.1%-25.6%) of EVD survivors and no controls, suggesting neuronal transmission as a route of ocular entry.

Concepts: Visual acuity, Ophthalmology, Ebola, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Western Area, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah

54

Thousands of persons have survived Ebola virus disease. Almost all survivors describe symptoms that persist or develop after hospital discharge. A cross-sectional survey of the symptoms of all survivors from the Ebola treatment unit (ETU) at 34th Regimental Military Hospital, Freetown, Sierra Leone (MH34), was conducted after discharge at their initial follow-up appointment within 3 weeks after their second negative PCR result. From its opening on December 1, 2014, through March 31, 2015, the MH34 ETU treated 84 persons (8-70 years of age) with PCR-confirmed Ebola virus disease, of whom 44 survived. Survivors reported musculoskeletal pain (70%), headache (48%), and ocular problems (14%). Those who reported headache had had lower admission cycle threshold Ebola PCR than did those who did not (p<0.03). This complete survivor cohort from 1 ETU enables analysis of the proportion of symptoms of post-Ebola syndrome. The Ebola epidemic is waning, but the effects of the disease will remain.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Biological warfare, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Incubation period, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Western Area, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah

27

Social mobilisation and risk communication were essential to the 2014-2015 West African Ebola response. By March 2015, >8500 Ebola cases and 3370 Ebola deaths were confirmed in Sierra Leone. Response efforts were focused on ‘getting to zero and staying at zero’. A critical component of this plan was to deepen and sustain community engagement. Several national quantitative studies conducted during this time revealed Ebola knowledge, personal prevention practices and traditional burial procedures improved as the outbreak waned, but healthcare system challenges were also noted. Few qualitative studies have examined these combined factors, along with survivor stigma during periods of ongoing transmission. To obtain an in-depth understanding of people’s perceptions, attitudes and behaviours associated with Ebola transmission risks, 27 focus groups were conducted between April and May 2015 with adult Sierra Leonean community members on: trust in the healthcare system, interactions with Ebola survivors, impact of Ebola on lives and livelihood, and barriers and facilitators to ending the outbreak. Participants perceived that as healthcare practices and facilities improved, so did community trust. Resource management remained a noted concern. Perceptions of survivors ranged from sympathy and empathy to fear and stigmatisation. Barriers included persistent denial of ongoing Ebola transmission, secret burials and movement across porous borders. Facilitators included personal protective actions, consistent messaging and the inclusion of women and survivors in the response. Understanding community experiences during the devastating Ebola epidemic provides practical lessons for engaging similar communities in risk communication and social mobilisation during future outbreaks and public health emergencies.

Concepts: Psychology, Risk, Qualitative research, West Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Guinea

22

The 2014 Ebola Virus Disease epidemic evolved in alarming ways in Sierra Leone spreading to all districts. The country struggled to control it against a backdrop of a health system that was already over-burdened. Health workers play an important role during epidemics but there is limited research on how they cope during health epidemics in fragile states. This paper explores the challenges faced by health workers and their coping strategies during the Ebola outbreak in four districts - Bonthe, Kenema, Koinadugu and Western Area - of Sierra Leone.

Concepts: Medicine, Epidemiology, Ebola, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Western Area, Bonthe District

17

The West African Ebola epidemic of 2013-2016 was by far the largest outbreak of the disease on record. Sierra Leone suffered nearly half of the 28,646 reported cases. This paper presents a set of culturally contextualized Ebola messages that are based on the findings of qualitative interviews and focus group discussions conducted in ‘hotspot’ areas of rural Bombali District and urban Freetown in Sierra Leone, between January and March 2015. An iterative approach was taken in the message development process, whereby (i) data from formative research was subjected to thematic analysis to identify areas of community concern about Ebola and the national response; (ii) draft messages to address these concerns were produced; (iii) the messages were field tested; (iv) the messages were refined; and (v) a final set of messages on 14 topics was disseminated to relevant national and international stakeholders. Each message included details of its rationale, audience, dissemination channels, messengers, and associated operational issues that need to be taken into account. While developing the 14 messages, a set of recommendations emerged that could be adopted in future public health emergencies. These included the importance of embedding systematic, iterative qualitative research fully into the message development process; communication of the subsequent messages through a two-way dialogue with communities, using trusted messengers, and not only through a one-way, top-down communication process; provision of good, parallel operational services; and engagement with senior policy makers and managers as well as people in key operational positions to ensure national ownership of the messages, and to maximize the chance of their being utilised. The methodological approach that we used to develop our messages along with our suggested recommendations constitute a set of tools that could be incorporated into international and national public health emergency preparedness and response plans.

Concepts: Focus group, Communication, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Ernest Bai Koroma, Temne people, Bombali District, Makeni

14

To the Editor: Schieffelin et al. (Nov. 27 issue) reported on 106 patients with Ebola virus disease who were treated in Kenema, Sierra Leone, in May and June 2014. Here we report similar data on the 631 patients with Ebola virus disease, as confirmed by polymerase-chain-reaction assay, who were admitted to the Ebola treatment center at the Hastings Police Training School near Freetown, Sierra Leone, on or after September 20, 2014 (the date on which the first patients were admitted to that center). The 31% case fatality rate at Hastings is lower than the 74% rate reported by Schieffelin et . . .

Concepts: Viral hemorrhagic fever, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Western Area, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Kenema, Sierra Leone National Premier League, Western Area Urban District

11

 Thousands of people have survived Ebola virus disease (EVD) during the ongoing outbreak. However, data about the frequency and risk factors of long-term post-EVD complications remain scarce. We describe the clinical characteristics of EVD survivors followed in a survivor clinic in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Incubation period, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Western Area, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, All People's Congress

10

Although research on the epidemiology and ecology of Ebola has expanded since the 2014-15 outbreak in West Africa, less attention has been paid to the mental health implications and the psychosocial context of the disease for providers working in primary health facilities (rather than Ebola-specific treatment units). This study draws on 54 qualitative interviews with 35 providers working in eight peripheral health units of Sierra Leone’s Bo and Kenema Districts. Data collection started near the height of the outbreak in December 2014 and lasted 1 month. Providers recounted changes in their professional, personal and social lives as they became de facto first responders in the outbreak. A theme articulated across interviews was Ebola’s destruction of social connectedness and sense of trust within and across health facilities, communities and families. Providers described feeling lonely, ostracized, unloved, afraid, saddened and no longer respected. They also discussed restrictions on behaviors that enhance coping including attending burials and engaging in physical touch (hugging, handshaking, sitting near, or eating with colleagues, patients and family members). Providers described infection prevention measures as necessary but divisive because screening booths and protective equipment inhibited bonding or ‘suffering with’ patients. To mitigate psychiatric morbidities and maladaptive coping mechanisms-and to prevent the spread of Ebola-researchers and program planners must consider the psychosocial context of this disease and mechanisms to enhance psychological first aid to all health providers, including those in peripheral health settings.

Concepts: Health care provider, Psychology, Medicine, Public health, Epidemiology, Infectious disease, Sierra Leone, Freetown