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How fear of Ebola could be causing more harm than the disease itself

How fear of Ebola could be causing more harm than the disease itself

There is a new term used by doctors on the front line of the battle to control the worst Ebola outbreak the world has seen: Ebola phobia.

A British doctor working in Freetown, Sierra Leone described yesterday how fear of the disease is causing more harm than the disease itself. Terry Gibson, former consultant physician at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust who is volunteering at Connaught Hospital – the largest in Freetown – said organisations in the city had withdrawn staff, closed services and abandoned projects.

Some hospitals have closed. In one case they had a patient with suspected Ebola. It caused problems for them and they shut their doors. A women’s welfare service in Freetown has shut. NGOs and commercial companies have pulled their people out. That means more pressure on us.

No one knows how many patients may have died because the medical care that might have saved them has been withdrawn.

Oliver Johnson, who leads a programme partnering Connaught Hospital with three UK hospitals – Kings College, Guys and St Thomas’, and the Maudsley – described the unique challenge the outbreak of Ebola presented.

Writing in the King’s in the Field blog, he said: “Many NGOs worried that if one of their staff died of Ebola they might be prosecuted or have funding withdrawn. One stopped doing outreach clinics in a local urban slum – the only health service available to many vulnerable patients, some of whom will certainly have died as a result.”

Some medical organisations had evacuated their international staff while others had put restrictions on them going into clinical areas.

We know Ebola is killing people. But is the Ebola response killing people too? Dr Johnson

There have been more than 100 deaths in Sierra Leone, but the first cases in Freetown did not officially occur until June. Many more are thought to have died in rural areas.

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