[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Diary from Angola's virus frontline: Part III
Experts from Medecins Sans Frontieres help train volunteers in a hospital in Luanda
Health workers wear special head-to-toe suits to avoid contamination
Zoe Young of the medical NGO, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), is keeping a diary for the BBC News Website from Angola as she helps with the emergency response to an outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus.

Here she writes about her work in and around the town of Uige in the north-east of the country, which has so far been the area worst hit by the epidemic.

Wednesday 20 April

Today was really horrible. We found out that one of the nurses in the hospital has had a temperature for a few days and has been in the emergency room.

I went with the new doctor and Sophie to do the test. I stayed back at a respectful distance with my spray machine at the ready.

Spray team
Zoe has been training the vital spraying teams
It was very sad talking to the man because he was all alone in the room and obviously no-one was going to come and visit him again.

He knew perfectly well what was happening to him and looked resigned to his fate.

Later on we heard that there was another nurse with a temperature. We climbed into our gear and went to make a check.

The man's wife was standing there watching us as we went through our procedure. She had a very odd expression on her face and I couldn't really decide what it was. I'm not sure if it was resignation or just incomprehension at all our activities.

On the way out we found a young girl who had just come out of the sick nurse's room clutching two pens.

I wanted to spray her hands - and she put the pens in her mouth! I couldn't believe it.

I motioned frantically for her to take the pens out and so she put them under her arm and held out her hands to be sprayed. Then I squirted her in the mouth with the chlorine solution and told her to spit it out.

We came home all feeling fairly shell-shocked after such a grim day. Each night we sit here wondering if and when we might have become infected.

Thursday 28 April

Today, one of my colleagues went to follow up a potential case in a suburb called Primero de Maio.

The people shouted "killer" at him and told him not to come back. I just saw him and he is looking pretty upset.

Zoe Young
Zoe is a water and sanitation specialist
We also just learned that the hospital administrator's car had stones thrown at it the other night.

Even though there haven't been any deaths for a few days now, there's clearly still a lot of fear.

Since those two nurses died people link the hospital with the spreading of the disease and it is now absolutely empty.

It's hard because we are doing all we can to contain the disease but people just associate us with death.

So we've invited the Sobas, who are the elders of the community, to come and see the centre.

Saturday 30th April

Every morning I am woken by the sound of church bells. Unfortunately not as melodious as might be imagined. Actually it is more like a long pipe being hit very hard with a metal pole. This all starts at about quarter to six in the morning.

Bed is my Marburg-free zone. To make it very special I have a silk sleeping bag liner that I brought from home.

It is a rather sad bed at the moment because it is one of those foldout camp beds and when I sat on the end of it the little leg buckled and now it is steeply sloping.

Cleaning wellies
Cleaning equipment is an unceasing task

Today we finished all the staff training on using the protective clothing. Everyone did really well.

Even when we were standing in the sun in the queue to go into the disinfection area no one was complaining of being too hot (except me).

Nobody was touching their heads or faces and they much undressed from the protective clothing much better than the first time.

A woman came into the hospital having a post partum haemorrhage and so I took the new spray men with me to spray the mattress and all the drops of blood on the path with chlorine solution.

There was also a tiny baby who the doctors thought might be a potential Marburg patient so suddenly we were running about to make sure that we had all the solutions that we needed.

Unfortunately, the family refused point blank to bring their child to our centre.

Sunday 1st May

Last night, Karen and I worked out the staff timetables and this morning we had a staff meeting for all the support (non medical) staff in the Fever Centre, as it is now known.

We talked about the job descriptions of each person so that they would know what to do and who to come to if there weren't enough green gloves, chlorinated water etc.

The afternoon was spent organising the supplies needed for the mobile team, who are going to go to the various health centres in the surrounding area to see if there have been any Marburg cases.

They are going to take gloves, chlorine, water and protective equipment with them so we collected it from the store and packed it into boxes.

The landmine people have been out already to check which roads are safe.

We were told a few days ago that the whole of Songo is in a triangle of mines and any area that has long grass outside the town is unsafe.

Then, since it is Sunday we watched a film. It was supposed to be quite scary, so we all got hysterical with laughter putting on our gloves so that we could hold each other's hands during the scary bits.

It was a weird feeling as I haven't shaken anybody's hand or touched anyone for three weeks, because of our safety protocols.

Everyday there are more and more insects in the house at night. We were invaded by Sausage Flies today. Yuck.

These are flies with a long sausagey body that fly in a very weird spirally way and make a kind of buzzing sound as they collide with things.

There was also a giant cockroach, but now we have a new super cockroach killer that we are going to test. Apparently one drop is enough and then as the cockroaches die the other cockroaches eat them and they die too. Luckily I will have left before we have a carpet of dead cockroaches in the house.

Monday 2nd May

Last working day in Songo for me. The mobile team went off very early in the morning and came back at lunchtime looking a bit shell-shocked.

They had been to a village which appeared to be deserted, all the houses boarded up and no one in sight. Finally they found an old man hiding behind a tree. Everyone was so scared that they had locked themselves in their houses.

Tuesday 3rd May
Leaving Songo was easy as a car was sent from Uige to collect me.

Leaving Uige was not particularly easy, as there didn't seem to be a flight. There was supposed to have been two planes going to Luanda but, as is often the case when you want to get home, both flights appeared to have been cancelled.

Finally a plane did come, and I changed out of my give-away chlorine bleached trousers and began to feel that I was leaving Marburg behind. And Home... On the Eurostar back to London, I sat next to a very inquisitive man who wanted to know all about what I did and what I had been up to in Angola.

I took a deep breath before I started because I wasn't sure what the reaction would be when he realised where I had been. It was interesting, as he was fairly tall and broad, how small and squished against the window he was able to make himself as I told him.

It was strange how I wanted to touch people less and less the closer I got to home.

Of course, I know that there is absolutely no chance that I could have contracted the virus, and that even if I had, it could only be transmitted to someone else if I had symptoms of Marburg.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking about it. When I got home, Mum gave me a kiss. I hesitated beforehand, but its difficult to explain to your Mother that she shouldn't give you a kiss.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific