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'A Disease That Comes to Kill': Fear Hinders Ebola Efforts in Africa

A girl who fled from a wheelbarrow shows the problems fighting Ebola on the ground in Liberia.
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The girl was loaded into a wheelbarrow to be admitted to the Ebola holding unit. Just 17, she was with her mother and appeared to be on the brink of death.

But in a blink, her eyes opened. She jumped up and started to run away.

In a scene that is becoming sadly familiar in Liberia, the suspected Ebola patient was chased down by people nearby who held her until an ambulance could arrive. The girl, named Jane Doe, had feet bloodied from running away — too afraid of the stigma, the isolation, the death that come with the rapidly spreading diagnosis to seek treatment.

“Those patients come with frightful eyes,” Dr. John Sankoh, medical director at Redemption Hospital, told NBC News. “It is a disease that is beyond boundaries. It is a disease that is irrespective of who you are. It is a disease that comes to kill.”

Resistance to treatment and quarantine is one of the problems that plagues doctors trying to contain the outbreak here. Earlier this month, a man who escaped a quarantine center fended off vigilantes with rocks and a stick before a medical team caught up with him.

Redemption Hospital, a government-run facility in Liberia's capital city of Monrovia, is where a doctor and several nurses became infected with Ebola and died as the outbreak began. Fear and empty beds have followed, as patients afraid of the virus stay away.

While NBC News visited on Tuesday, a young man in his 20s was carried out of an ambulance over his friend’s shoulder, crying for his mother. Health care workers kept a safe distance of a meter or more as they shouted directions, and he was bundled into another ambulance and taken away.

Jane Doe, the 17-year-old girl, was held until an ambulance came and returned her to Redemption. She was admitted and put on an IV solution — part of the supportive care doctors think has been most effective in helping people recover from Ebola.

Her mother now waits for an update on the girl’s battle against an outbreak that has already killed more than 3,000 people. The mother, too, must remain in quarantine for fear that the virus has spread.



— Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Ami Schmitz and Lisa Tolin