Connections: A glimpse inside the ebola quarantine

Editor’s Note:

Cocooned in the Columbia River Valley, surrounded by our beautiful Selkirk and Monashee mountains and an hour’s drive from any town, it’s easy to think of Revelstoke as isolated, cut off from the world. But we are not. Revelstoke not only draws people from around the world, many residents travel extensively and make friends with people all over the world.

The Revelstoke Current is pleased to introduce a new monthly column about the connections around the world made by residents of Revelstoke. The column will share the experiences of friends or former residents in interesting places, sometimes tackling challenging circumstances.

We encourage you, the reader, to share some of your experiences and friendships overseas or in parts of Canada that are very different from our community – perhaps a letter from a nurse who works up north, or a person who has been working to build a school in a developing country, or a Rotary exchange student.

Please send your stories to Laura Stovel, at We will print one a month.

The September column takes us to Sierra Leone in West Africa, one of the countries that have been devastated by the deadly ebola virus. We begin with correspondence and news from a friend who was under quarantine in Makeni, in northern Sierra Leone and then talk about an upcoming fundraiser on October 18 to support Médecins Sans Frontièrs in their efforts to combat the ebola virus in West Africa.

Connections: A glimpse inside the ebola quarantine

“I am writing from my quarantine residence in Makeni. Here lived a medical staff who contracted the disease whilst on duty. His 18-year-old son who was caring for him unfortunately contracted it and so both of them succumbed to the disease. So the entire compound has been sealed off for a period of 21 days to see whether any other person was infected. I hope not.”

Manty Dabo
Makeni, Sierra Leone

Laura Stovel
Laura Stovel

I have had the great privilege of spending time twice in Sierra Leone, the first time just after the decade-long civil war ended in January 2003. I followed the truth commission and heard heart-wrenching stories of cruelty, suffering and courage and I made some very good friends who I am in continuous contact with to this day.

I was very impressed with Sierra Leoneans’ willingness to reconcile and to put aside justified anger and resentment for the sake of peace. This was among the poorest countries in the world and yet in some ways Sierra Leoneans serve as an inspiration for us all for their magnanimity and wisdom in the aftermath of war. Yet this impoverished country was once again thrown a curve ball when the ebola virus hit the region around June of this year.

On September 18, the World Health Organization reported that there were 5,833 confirmed cases of the Ebola virus in six countries, overwhelmingly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Of these, 2,833 people died. The average survival rate, according to WHO, is 50%. Observers estimate that these numbers are low because many people are too frightened to seek medical assistance.

The fragile medical systems of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were ill-equipped to tackle an emergency that would have severely challenged our own medical system so their governments called in international agencies such as Médecins Sans Frontièrs (Doctors Without Borders) and the World Health Organization. The Sierra Leonean government imposed quarantines to stop residents who had been in contact with infected people, even remotely, from travelling. It also took the extraordinary measure of imposing a three-day curfew during which volunteers went house educating the population about the virus and identifying anyone who showed symptoms.

Earlier this month I received an e-mail from my friend Manty Dabo, a woman who has worked tirelessly for girls’ education in her community and who is now working for the Sierra Leone elections office. She was in the northern town of Makeni taking an elections course when the outbreak occurred. A medical worker living in her compound died of ebola, as did his son who was caring for him so the whole compound was put under quarantine.

The compound houses 21 people, including the family of the men who died, a teacher, a policeman, a social worker, housewives and six children. Manty’s apartment is self-contained and faces the street but all the apartments in the back share a toilet. After the quarantine was imposed Manty had no contact with the other residents as health authorities discouraged them from interacting. Two policemen guarded the compound, one during the day and one at night.

Here are excerpts from Manty’s e-mails during her quarantine which ended the day the curfew started.


Manty listens to her radio as she works on her laptop. Photo courtesy of Manty Dabo
Manty listens to her radio as she works on her laptop. Photo courtesy of Manty Dabo

September 4, e-mail from Manty. Day 6 of quarantine:

I am writing from my quarantine residence in Makeni. Here lived a medical staff who contracted the disease whilst on duty. His 18-year-old son who was caring for him unfortunately contracted it and so both of them succumbed to the disease. So the entire compound has been sealed off for a period of 21 days to see whether any other person was infected. I hope not.

I am fine as I have never had any dealing with them. I live in the front of the building while the affected family live at the back. In fact I was not around when they took ill. I was in Kabala and later left for Waterloo.

We have been in quarantine six days now and we hope to end on September 19th. God willing! It was good I had some money with me as I had to rush to buy essential foodstuff to keep me going for three weeks because we are not allowed to move out of the compound.

September 12, Laura’s phone call to Manty. Day 14 of quarantine:

I phoned Manty on September 12th and she told me that some people do not understand the seriousness of the quarantine. “We Sierra Leoneans have a tradition of hugging and shaking hands,” she said. This is dangerous in this situation. She described a woman with a baby strapped to her back who was on the street and wanted to shake the hand of a teacher in the compound who was under quarantine. He said she had to stay away but she pressed forward to say, “Yes, we can greet.” He had to insist that she needed to stay away and not touch him.

As much as the war tested people’s character, beliefs and judgement, this emergency also tests people. For people in one of the warmest cultures I have ever encountered, the necessary acts of staying apart will be hard and perhaps even misunderstood.

September 13 e-mail from Manty. Day 15 of quarantine:

I am doing fine physically but psychologically not, as the level of people’s knowledge and awareness of Ebola is really low. They are still clinging to traditional practices and beliefs. Up until yesterday, I heard on the local news that villagers are associating the epidemic to witchcraft and sorcery, thus continuing to further spread the disease.

News on a local Catholic radio station reported that a corpse was seated on a motor bike in between the rider and a passenger. However, the riders’ plans failed as they were pursued. They abandoned the corpse and fled into the bush, meaning these two people must have been infected and hence will go to their communities to pass it to their family members and friends.

The situation is really worrisome as of now, though we are getting reports of about 300 people having survived the disease. In fact this morning I spoke by phone to a male medic who contracted the disease in the hospital he works in Makeni. He was rushed at the treatment centre in Kenema and had been discharged quite recently. He now lives in Bo, southern Sierra Leone.

As a religious nation, we are fervently praying to the Lord to help us kick Ebola out of Sierra Leone within the shortest possible time as people are dying every day. The disease has infected humans and affected families, communities and their livelihoods including the national economy. Businesses have been adversely affected including the hospitality industry.

My daily routine is as follows:

5:45 am             Prayers
6 am                        Listen to BBC news
7:30 am             Listen to Good Morning Salone news on Radio Mankneh
8 am                        Listen to SLBS national news
8:15 am            Listen to Teabreak morning program on SLBC
9 am                         BBC news and BBC Outlook program
10 am-1 pm             Cook food
1 pm                        Listen to BBC news hour
2 pm                        Break (most times relax in bed)
3 pm                        Listen to BBC Focus on Africa news
4-7 pm                        Work on my dissertation or use the Internet
8 pm                         Pray and go to bed

In fact I have been closely following two major news hitting the airwaves namely, the Oscar Pistorious murder trial in South Africa and the Scotland Referendum scheduled for next Thursday.

It’s boring to be quarantined especially when you are alone. I am the only one living in the apartment. I strictly heed health advice, so I am always in the room, parlor or on the veranda.

None of us is allowed to go out of the compound, except occupants roam within and around the two buildings. If visitors come, they seek permission from the security personnel (the soldier or police), stand across the street and talk to us but they are not allowed in at all.

The affected family was initially gripped by panic and fear but has now been relieved as none of them has manifested any signs and symptoms of the disease. If any one of them does, we shall restart the whole process of serving another 21 day quarantine period, so we are praying that it does not happen that way.

We are five days away from freedom day as we are eagerly looking forward to it.

Till then my regards to all of you.

September 20th, e-mail to Laura. Quarantine ended. Day 2 of lock-down:

Today is day two of the lock down exercise. In Bombali District (Makeni) where I am, 41 cases were identified yesterday and took to the Paramedical School, one of the 3 identified holding centers for the exercise. Eight (corpses and the feeble) were confirmed as been abandoned in various spots across the city yesterday a health official reported on the local radio station last night. Please note that 30 of the 41 identified cases voluntarily gave up themselves to the medical teams.

These are the cumulative figures for Bombali district as of 19th September 2014 — total confirmed cases: 115; confirmed Ebola deaths: 54, and 20 survivors as of today. Three police/ medical team check points have been mounted  to and from the city to check passengers’ temperatures. The health personnel further reported that there now 176 quarantine homes presently across the district. He continued that the number of Q. homes are on the increase because of the contact tracing (all those who the victim might have come in contact with and their homes have been quarantined and put under surveillance). He said there are now two burial teams as the only one was being overwhelmed and the number of ambulances have been increased to match up the daunting task.

Laura’s note:

Manty said that the local government is doing what it can to bring food to those in quarantine. Part way through her quarantine she said that “Even today the deputy mayor came to the compound with a bag of rice and palm oil.” she said. She was also allowed to buy fruit and vegetables from the vendors who walk by the compound by asking the assistance of the policemen-guards.

Rice and cooking oil being delivered to the compound. Photo courtesy of Manty Dabo
Rice and cooking oil being delivered to the compound. Photo courtesy of Manty Dabo

Manty is lucky in many ways. She was safe since she had no contact with the infected man and his son and she could not come into contact with anyone else during her quarantine. But for all those others who have lost loved ones and who have come into contact with them the fear and the grief must be terrible indeed.

Fundraiser to support the ebola-fighting effort

One of the main international agencies on the ground helping to treat ebola victims is Médecins Sans Frontièrs. With the support of the Revelstoke Arts Council a group of Revelstoke residents with links to Sierra Leone are organizing a film event and fundraiser to raise money for MSF and for local initiatives.

The film Ebola War, directed by Canadian filmmaker David Belluz, will be shown at the Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, October 18. This inspiring film 45-minute film depicts an ebola outbreak in the town of Gulu in northern Uganda in 2000. It shows the efforts of courageous medical workers to treat the disease and contain the disease even though they had minimal supplies, several of them died, they put their families at risk and they were ostracized by their own communities. The context, including the reaction of the population and the challenges facing medical staff, is very similar to that in West Africa although the workers in Uganda received even less support.

The film will be followed by a question-and answer-session with panelists with experience in the region and with the medical challenges. Organizers are also trying to find a panelist who has working experience with MSF.

Admission is by donation and viewers can choose either to donate to MSF or to local initiatives. Donations of over $10 can receive a tax receipt.

If you would like to help out with this event, please contact Laura Stovel at