"Machete-wielding mob" hinders Ebola relief effort

In the usual American way, our nation continues to go to great lengths to assist the people of western Africa as they deal with the latest Ebola outbreak. We have any number of doctors, nurses and volunteers in country providing relief, performing necessary medical services and attempting to halt the spread of the disease. And, for better or worse, we’re apparently going to continue to have our military lending logistical support in these efforts. But in a rather shocking example last week, we see what sort of challenges these relief workers are facing above and beyond the dangers of dealing with the infectious virus. Sometimes, when you’re trying to help the locals, they respond with horrific violence.

A riot in Sierra Leone left two people dead and 10 others wounded after an angry mob brandishing machetes and shovels went on a rampage because health care workers tried to test a 90-year-old woman for Ebola, doctors said Wednesday.

Security personnel in the diamond mining town of Koidu battled an infuriated horde of youngsters Tuesday after they stopped a medical team from taking a blood sample from the elderly mother of Adamu Eze, an esteemed member of their group.

“Ebola contact tracers visited the house of a prominent youth leader to take a blood sample of his ailing 90-year-old mother but were barred by a gang of youths,” a witness told Agence France-Presse.

Disgusted that the team would try to test a woman who they insisted was not infected with the virus, the irate crowd took up arms and told the workers they would not let them take the woman’s blood.

The elderly woman later died of unrelated ailments anyway.

This is one of the real challenges that healthcare workers face when traveling to remote regions of the world. Even if you could somehow manage to drop a 21st century medical facility out of the sky in the middle of Liberia or Sierra Leone, you’re dealing with a monumental task in trying to educate the public regarding exactly what it is you are doing and why you’re doing it. Superstition in rural areas run strong, as does suspicion about the motives and methods of outsiders. When westerners were trying to fight the spread of AIDS in South Africa, they were horrified to learn that some shaman based rumor had run wild, claiming that you could rid yourself of the disease by having sex with a virgin. This led to an outbreak of child rapes which apparently continues to this day.

Battling Ebola will be hard enough by itself. Getting attacked by knife wielding mobs while trying to do so makes you wonder just how much can really be accomplished.