Hong Kong Ebola virus volunteers speak of human catastrophe
The Ebola epidemic has killed more than half of all infected people, but fear and stigma are helping to make the virus even more deadly, say two Hongkongers who have just returned from Liberia - one of the hardest hit West African countries.
"It's more than an epidemic now, it's a human catastrophe," Red Cross clinical psychologist Eliza Cheung Yee-lai said yesterday.
Cheung, who returned from a month-long stay in Liberia last week, recounted how those infected with Ebola were abandoned and thrown into the streets - and families with any known connection to someone with the virus were shunned by their communities.
Cheung and Red Cross volunteer May Yeung Pui-shan - a public health doctor - made up the second team sent from Hong Kong to West Africa in support of international efforts to contain the deadly virus. The Red Cross previously sent three nurses.
Based in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, the pair trained more than 100 public health workers and counsellors. Many were from the epidemic-ravaged areas of Bong, Bomi, Lofa and Montserrado and have since returned to train others.
Ebola has killed 1,427 people in four West African countries among the 2,615 infected. In Liberia alone, 1,082 cases have been reported, and the death toll has hit 624.
Yeung said the numbers were probably grossly underestimated given the conditions, making the virus extremely hard to track, and the Liberians' distrust of their government which made them reluctant to report cases.
"In some places, over 80 per cent of all medical facilities and services have stopped. Hospitals are refusing pregnant women and sick children," Yeung said. "In the month that we were there, we could only see the situation getting worse and worse."
"Leaving was emotional and sad for me. There is still a lot of work to do," she said.
The Red Cross has raised its donation target to HK$87 million. Potential donors can contact the Hong Kong Red Cross at email@example.com or call 2802 0016.