Ebola on our doorstep?

BY: Joe Frazier

By twist of language, the devastating impact of death on a close-knit community is smothered. Thus in the Akan culture, a person does not die; he goes home to his village. In Ewe, a deceased is said to have travelled to unknown destination.

On the other hand death is so common that unless presented in shattering terms, the occurrence is taken for granted. In Ewe, death, eku, is given the appellation of “eku salagatsi” which portrays death as a destructive, unsparing agent that materialises from nowhere to exact life as its toll. By this appellation often sung in dirges, agents of death create fear.

 By the same reasoning, diseases are classified according to viciousness. Agents of malaria, tuberculosis and flu fall into the category of “eku,” while ebola, lassa and AIDS which have no cures and take no prisoners belong to the ruthless class of eku salagatsi. When they knock at the door, inmates are simply goners. Did Ghana have a visit from ebola recently?

Seven years ago, I attempted writing a fictionalised account of malaria research in Ghana. The plot involved an attempt by a research institute to produce a hybrid mosquito whose malaria parasite was zapped with radiation to render the mosquito harmless. Unfortunately, during one of the experiments the radiation source became unreliable due to dum sor dum sor. 

The parasite did not get enough bombardment of radiation. The resultant mutant was a very virulent species whose malaria has no cure. As fate would have it, the director of the institute was bitten by one of such mosquitos at a time he was about to travel for a medical conference in New Zealand, a country with no history of malaria.

The violent symptoms of high fever, bleeding and vomiting associated with this mutant manifested in Auckland and the medical authorities there mistook them for ebola fever. Promptly, they put the whole nation on disaster alert and quarantined every person indoors. 

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As promptly, they appropriately cocooned the victim in paddings of plastic foam and polythene liners. After rounds of fumigation, the cargo was deported to Ghana in a military airplane. The receiving Government was highly confused when the cargo landed on a deserted field near Kotoka. The question was “How do we receive this cargo of eku salagatsi?”

Ebola has been suspected to have arrived here through a 12-year old girl. Even though Noguchi Institute for Medical Research would disprove its presence, ebola has a cousin called lassa virus in mice. It was first detected in 1969 in the Borno State of Nigeria  - barely two years after ebola was noticed in DR Congo. The symptoms are nearly  similar.

 The question we need to ask is, “If our scientists claim the case of the 12-year girl was definitely not ebola, have they discounted lassa as well?”

As the saying goes in my little village, if in your sleep you always dream that you have been bitten by a snake, you will surely be bitten one fine morning. To avoid this mishap, you must clear the entire bush around your house. 

Unfortunately, we cannot clear ebola away from our door step easily. But there are few things we can do to minimise contact with this eku salagatsi. Do you relish monkey meat? How about bat meat too? At least, in this period of Lent, avoid them. 

As I drive by the railway bridge outside Anyinam and behold the array of smoked meat on display, my mind goes to Noguchi Institute and I wonder whether it might be worth their while testing some samples for ebola. Research is very important as well-sought-for information lay hidden in unlikeliest sources.

The other fact that bothers me about ebola virus is that bat, a known vector, lives with humans in the same dwelling places. The nocturnal animals urinate around and their droppings provide a good source of fertiliser for shallot farming. Could the excretory products harbour the ebola virus?

At a moment like this, education of the populace is very important. Of course, panic is the least situation we require and we plead that while the agencies of health and media seek to provide vital information, they must not over-hype any incident. The other day, one listening to the CNN report on the incident of the 12

-year-old girl got the impression that all households had been attacked in Ghana.

And my last words: The health authorities hold their big conferences and speak knowledgeably about what needs to be done but what concrete arrangement have they undertaken about the isolation centres and the equipment required for handling suspected victims? 

For all we know, the 12-year girl might have travelled to the hospital in a trotro with other passengers, handled with bare hands by nurses and doctors who wore no masks and no shrouds. Eku salagatsi does not need such easy temptations to kill en masse!


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(Author: Blame not the Darkness and Akora, available at Legon Bookshop, Kingdom Bookshop, La; PAWA House)