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VOA Goes to the Heart of Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone and Liberia

Health workers clean up after removing the body of an Ebola victim.
Health workers clean up after removing the body of an Ebola victim.

Every day Voice of America broadcasts news about the Ebola outbreak to millions of people in Africa in more than 20 languages, along with information about how to avoid contracting the disease. A reporter for VOA based in Sierra Leone, Adam Bailes, recently became one of the first journalists to travel to the village of Makeni, in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province. He filed a heartbreaking video report.

There are no treatment facilities for Ebola in Makeni, as his report makes clear. As a result patients wait in a holding facility to be transported to the only place in the country able to take them, a Doctors Without Borders treatment center that is 16 hours away by ambulance. Bailes got to Makeni by making that 16-hour journey.

He arrived at what he describes as the worst situation he has seen in Sierra Leone: “The Ebola virus seems to be ripping through Makeni,” Bailes says. For safety, he was able to stay only a few hours, but in that time, he saw “no signs of hope.” As difficult as it was to see a building full of sick people he knew all might die, he says it was perhaps even harder seeing doctors trying their best to treat them but not knowing what to do.

A sick child at the holding center in Makeni.
A sick child at the holding center in Makeni.

The problem, he says, is not just equipment or training or staff. It is “understanding how infectious Ebola is and understanding how bacteria and illness--this invisible sickness--is spread.” Many otherwise knowledgeable doctors are dying, he adds, because “Ebola is something nobody has ever experienced before.”

The tragedy underway now in Makeni, he says, could be an indication of what may happen throughout Sierra Leone if there is no international assistance soon.

Bailes’ trip to Makeni, which was partly funded by the State Department, is part of an expanded VOA effort to bring information to the world about Ebola. His video report is available here.

On an earlier reporting trip, from a town outside Monrovia, Liberia, VOA’s Anne Look revealed how Ebola robs families of the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. Public health experts say the bodies of Ebola victims are at their most contagious after death, and authorities in Liberia have worked hard to convince people to call in specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, are hard on their loved ones.