2014 Ebola Outbreak: Afflicted Resort to Witch Doctors; Locals Believe Virus is a Western Conspiracy

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | August 4, 2014 11:28 AM EST

Apparently, the Ebola virus now enveloping three West African nations wouldn't have developed into an outbreak if not for the people's ignorance and belief in witchcraft.

REUTERS/Saliou Samb
Workers from Doctors Without Borders unload emergency medical supplies to deal with an Ebola outbreak in Conakry, Guinea, March 23, 2014. Health officials fighting an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea on Sunday dispatched specialised medical equipment, imposed restrictions on funerals and sought to contain panic to prevent the fever from spreading. There have been 29 confirmed deaths from the haemorrhagic fever among 59 people killed by a mysterious illness in southeastern Guinea since early February, international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said. Picture taken March 23, 2014. REUTERS/Saliou Samb

As doctors, health workers and other medical volunteers race to cure the infected and curb the spread of the virus, they are actually being even blamed by the locals for Ebola's outbreak. Instead of going to them, the sick turn to the witch doctors for treatment.

The locals' non-belief to the promise of potential treatment offered by the professional medical staff is criticized when the latter themselves get sick.

Based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are now over 1,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone sick with Ebola since March; at least 729 have died.

Read: 2014 Ebola Outbreak: Sierra Leone Declares Emergency, Death Toll Now 729

Among the afflicted and dead were dozens of local health workers as well as top Ebola doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia. 

Because of this, "people appear to have more confidence in witch doctors," The New York Times reported. Moreover, the locals believed the virus is just a western conspiracy or worse, that it doesn't really exist at all. 

The virus chooses no one and afflicts everyone. It can claim its victims in just within a sweeping number of eight days from the time the symptoms start showing up to death.

Ebola kills up to 90 percent of its victims with astonishing swiftness. The average time from start of symptoms to death is just eight days. The victim will feel severe muscle pain, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. The most heartbreaking is to witness the victim undergo unstoppable bleeding as the patient's organs break down.

The spread of the virus is also being helped by the ignorance of the people wanting to help the victims.

Kendell Kauffeldt, the director in Liberia of Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse, told AFP such an example is bringing patients to the hospital or medical facilities through a jeep.

Read: 2014 Ebola Outbreak: US CDC Issues Travel Advisory; Virus 'Dreadful and Merciless'

"It's dangerous to bring cases in private vehicles like this," he told AFP. That time, he saw five people got off from a Toyota vehicle. "The Ministry of Health has established protocols. There are hotline numbers that people have to call. And when you call there are ambulances, with trained people on board who are protected, to take the patient to hospital."

Essentially, the people in that private vehicle have lodged the Ebola virus death sentence on their heads. "With communication and education not robust as they should be, we see this happening where Ebola cases are brought in taxis or private cars," Kauffeldt said. "This is very worrisome because everybody in that car has had contact with the patient. We need to watch them for 21 days to know whether they have been infected."

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert, told the Chicago Tribune the 2014 Ebola outbreak isn't actually a very new strain that is largely different from the previous one.

He blamed its spread on the seeming lack of awareness promoted about it. "The international public health and local government officials were slow to understand how fast the virus was spreading." Thus, health professionals are now struggling to control the disease. "This is like trying to change a tire in a hurricane," he said.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Saliou Samb / )
Workers from Doctors Without Borders unload emergency medical supplies to deal with an Ebola outbreak in Conakry, Guinea, March 23, 2014. Health officials fighting an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea on Sunday dispatched specialised medical equipment, imposed restrictions on funerals and sought to contain panic to prevent the fever from spreading. There have been 29 confirmed deaths from the haemorrhagic fever among 59 people killed by a mysterious illness in southeastern Guinea since early February, international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said. Picture taken March 23, 2014. REUTERS/Saliou Samb
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