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A Year And 7,000 Deaths Later, A Look At The Ebola Epidemic


It feels hard to believe, but the largest Ebola outbreak in history started around this time last year when a 2-year-old boy in Guinea was confirmed to have the virus. He did not survive. The epidemic has now killed more than 7,000. And while it seems to be coming under control in Guinea and Liberia, the number of new Ebola cases is still climbing in Sierra Leone. Dr. Dan Cooper is a volunteer with Britain's National Health Service, and he's in Sierra Leone. Dr. Cooper, hello, and welcome to the program.


RATH: Can you tell us what Christmas Day was like at the treatment center?

COOPER: Yeah. It was mixed, really. We tried to make it as much of a Christmas as we could do. We did carols by candlelight on Christmas Eve. We had a way to find a guitar from somewhere. There's a five-day lock down in Sierra Leone at the moment just trying to stop the spread, so the mood was quite subdued. We had one patient discharged, and that was a few moments of joy in the middle of the day. But it was quite a sad day all around.

RATH: Could you tell us, perhaps, about any patient in particular that you've helped through this process whose story has stuck with you?

COOPER: Yeah, we had a 12-year-old boy called Ibrahim. And he was a real character. So he was quite unwell when he came in, and he got loads better. And we stuck a couple of days. He came out to juggle from about four meters away across the furnace to do some break dancing moves. So it was nice. It was really nice when he went home. It was a really joyous day.

RATH: Dr. Cooper, is there any sense there that the tide is turning, or that you've already been through the worst of it?

COOPER: No, I think what we're hearing in Sierra Leone keeps escalating (unintelligible). We're very much on the upward part of the slope still. We've just opened up, thankfully, which is 100 beds up in the north of the country - Royal Engineers, which allowed me to put another six centers. So within the next couple of months, we should have about 700 to 800 new beds. So by the end of February, beginning of March, we're hoping to have transmission down low enough and enough people coming out and back into the community to get in under control, which we're still in midst of the battle at the moment.

RATH: I'm curious, how does your family feel about you spending Christmas in Sierra Leone?

COOPER: Oh, they didn't feel good about it. I told them about - I had about four days' notice from volunteering to deploying, so I didn't have much time to break it to them. But they weren't too happy at the start. They're very proud, very proud now. But at the start, they were quite upset about it. And I managed to Skype for about five minutes on Christmas Day. The Internet is not great here, but we managed to get enough of a connection for a quick chat. And I shared a beer in the sun with them.

RATH: And, Dr. Cooper, is it hard to maintain a positive attitude? I'm curious what keeps you going?

COOPER: It is hard. It's very hard, actually, especially being so far from home. The work is hard. It's tough emotionally. And it's tough physically because the temperature here is - I'll tell you how hot it is. It's just the knowledge that we're helping. We're getting somewhere, and we're going to sort this out. That's the thing that's keeping us going.

RATH: Dr. Dan Cooper is a volunteer with Britain's National Health Service. He's currently working in a Kane Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone. Dr. Cooper, thank you very much.

COOPER: Oh, sure. Good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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