Sierra Leone’s present plight occupies my mind. You might ask, what about Guinea and Liberia? Well, Liberia is pretty much over the worst, and Guinea claims that the Ebola virus is not spreading, though information appears hard to come by. The fact is, I did not live for five-and-a-half years in Guinea or Liberia. I don't know any Liberian and the only citizen I know from Guinea lives in the United Kingdom.
I started this blog account (Other Lands and Other People) when it occurred to me that many people from Britain know little about how people in Asia or Africa live. Apart, that is, from the bright spots like Thailand or Singapore. South America has become more familiar with some tourist spots becoming famous in that part of the world. But,Congo? Mozambique? I bet very few people in Britain know what those countries look like, how the people live, and what, in human behaviour, is taken to be the norm.
Sierra Leoneans live with every-day deprivation that we could not dream about. A great part of Africa does. When I finished my fifteen years sojourn in various parts of Africa and returned to the UK, my first thought was, thank God for running water and absence of cerebral malaria.
I had come up against both: in the Northern part of Sierra Leone, in 1986, I became ill without knowing what was wrong. My head and neck hurt a little all the time and my energy levels fell. My job required running around all over Sierra Leone like a mad monkey. I came to the UK at about that time on leave and became seriously ill with fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.
The local GP in Basildon came around to my house (I was bed-ridden by then) and said he would do some tests. The test results took forever to come; in between he would not prescribe anything. I kept pleading with him to treat me for Malaria, but he could not see any evidence of it even in the blood. When I started rigours as in Malaria, he ordered another blood test, and I knew I would die if he did not give me medication soon. The second blood test showed I had cerebral malaria and I was carted off to the Billericay hospital, where I was isolated, in spite of my telling the doctors and nurses there, that Malaria could not spread without the mosquito.
I remember the consultant from the School of Tropical Diseases who came to discharge me; he opened a small bound booklet and started searching for information on Malaria. This did not actually encourage my faith in him. So I said to him, 'The flukes live in the liver for a while. I need medication for three weeks to stop them from making me ill again.' He looked again in the book and prescribed another medicine. In Sierra Leone, many people live with Malaria until they die.
Malaria kills a great number of people in some countries. More than Ebola, but it does not spread from person to person. I am sure malnutrition kills just as many. Infant mortality rates are high and the death of a child in small, remote communities is commonplace.
The pharmaceutical companies did not get interested in producing a vaccine for Ebola until recently. When the WHO started making dollar signs. The question: do people from other countries have a moral obligation to actively promote health and the eradication of disease in other countries, even when we are not under threat?