Leading Ebola Doctor Stricken With The Disease Himself

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, the head doctor fighting the Ebola virus outbreak in Sierra Leone, has begun to exhibit symptoms of the disease. For more details on the situation, Audie Cornish speaks with Dr. Daniel G. Bausch, a colleague of Khan's and an associate professor at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the worst in history, shows no signs of letting up. The World Health Organization says that 660 people have died in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. And today, a man who died in Nigeria tested positive for Ebola. In Sierra Leone, efforts to fight the outbreak have been complicated by more bad news. A doctor leading that effort has contracted the virus itself. His name is Sheik Umar Khan. He's 39 and he's treated more than a hundred Ebola patients. He's been hailed as a national hero. Daniel G. Bausch was working alongside Dr. Khan in a hospital as recently as last week before the doctor's symptoms began. Dr. Bausch joins us now from Geneva in Switzerland.

Welcome to the program.

DANIEL G. BAUSCH: Thank you.

CORNISH: Tell us a little bit more about Sheik Umar Khan, his role. Give us a sense of how many doctors in the region actually have this specialty, in terms of treating the disease.

BAUSCH: Very few. Of course, Ebola is a new disease to the region and Dr. Khan's - his experience really came from treating a somewhat similar disease called Lassa fever, and he's been working in the one of the key points for a Lassa fever research program for over 10 years there.

CORNISH: I understand that Dr. Khan is currently in the care of the medical group Doctors Without Borders. Can you give us an update about how he's doing, how his treatment is going?

BAUSCH: It's been difficult to get direct news, just because the communications are very difficult from a very remote area where he is. His situation and case is unfortunately very serious, so he's progressed through to having some degree of worsening symptoms today, and we're just hoping for the best. Some people can bounce back from there, and others don't, but we have no way of telling right now.

CORNISH: There's no vaccine, but as you mentioned, some people are able to survive. Can you talk about whether the detection of this was early enough to improve his chances?

BAUSCH: Well, the detection was quite early, and so early detection is certainly better than later. But we certainly had lots of other people that we've gotten early and still not been able to save. So it's still touch and go.

CORNISH: Dr. Bausch, help us picture the circumstances in which you and Dr. Khan are working. What sort of preventive measures do you take to avoid getting the disease?

BAUSCH: Some are the specific garb that one wears, which one can think of as sort of like what a surgeon looks like. The other key aspects are just to have a controlled situation where you have the proper reinforcements and the proper staffing in a ward. And although, at least as of late, the PPE - the protective materials - have been there. The staffing and other things have definitely not been present.

CORNISH: You mentioned the staffing. I understand some nurses at this same health center have died as a result of the disease, and many more nurses are on strike as a result. Does this reflect serious fears that these preventive measures aren't enough?

BAUSCH: Unfortunately, it does reflect those fears and it's a normal fear for someone to have, of course. Unfortunately, you get into a very negative cycle where you have a healthcare worker who gets sick. That causes more fear on the part of the others, who then tend not to come to work and you get less and less healthcare workers in the wards, making a situation that becomes even less safe. As an example of that, there were times last week in Kenema going into the ward of 55 people with confirmed cases of Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and had just one or two nurses in the facility. So obviously, not a safe environment.

CORNISH: Daniel Bausch, what more can you tell us about Sheik Umar Khan? We know he's 39, and we know that he's treated a great many people. Tell us about his personality and style as a physician.

BAUSCH: You know, I met him probably almost over 10 years ago, when we were trying to recruit a new physician to the Lassa fever ward, which has now become the Ebola ward. And not very many people were willing to take on that job. He was one of the few who was willing to do it, and really did a good job, and always with a very positive attitude and very cooperative with everyone. On a personal level, I think everyone who knows him knows his great love was football. He loved football. His team was a team in Italy, and if he wasn't at work in the evenings you could often find him with friends gathering around to watch football - I mean soccer - games.

CORNISH: Daniel Bausch, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BAUSCH: Thank you very much. Good night.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.