1. What are conditions like on the frontline?
© WANG Ya/ MSF
Right now things are still quite tense. The isolation ward MSF has constructed operates around the clock. From August until today (December 11) at 10 o'clock, we have treated 113 patients, of which 29 patients died. Today there are 32 infected people. 13 are in Kyoko and 19 are in Bundibugyo.
Everyday I work from seven in the morning until midnight. In this project, there are 20 international staff and 45 national staff. Of these, there are 2 international doctors, 2 international nurses, 3 national doctors, and 3 national nurses. For the work of non-medical volunteers such as logisticians is also crucial. They are in charge of water and sanitation, sterilization, etc. There is also a team that specializes in handling dead bodies. First they need to sterilize the body, then they dig a grave 2.5 meters deep to bury the body in. Without these people, we would not be able to do our work.
2. Have you had difficulties recruiting local staff?
Yes, it has been very difficult. People here are very worried. Ebola is a highly infectious disease, so they are anxious about coming to work with us. As a result, we have tried to spread information about Ebola and how to prevent it. For medical staff working in the hospital ward, we provide them with full body protective gear, including goggles with anti-fog spray, surgical masks, and two layers of gloves. Whenever they enter or leave the ward, they must go through sterilization.
No. We have taken strong measures to protect ourselves, and none of the medical staff has been infected so far.
© WANG Ya/ MSF
3. Have there been any cases of our medical staff catching the disease?
4. How are you feeling now?
We are not scared, but it is a difficult experience for all of us to see so many patients die and to know that this disease is so contagious. The local people are very worried, but as MSF field volunteers, we have mentally prepared ourselves for this. We are mostly worried about the people here. We have adopted some required protective measures. For example, I wash my hands about twenty or thirty times a day.
5. Your husband Wang Jun, who is working on another project in Uganda, says he worries about you. Are you really not worried?
Even though I say I am not worried, I am still a little worried of course. But everyone has prepared themselves mentally and is here to fight this epidemic. I am so busy each day that I really do not have energy left to think too much.
Before coming here, I was at another project in Uganda. I received a call from our Head of Mission telling me about this crisis situation and asking me if I could come and work here. At the time, I did not think at all, I said I would definitely go. I wanted to know what this disease was like and see what I could do as a finance and administration personnel. I was very eager to come because I knew the project was short on manpower. There were only 5 people in first team that arrived in the area. As part of the second team, I wanted to know what I could do.
I am proud. Before, I had only read about Ebola in newspapers. I had no medical knowledge about it. Once, I watched an American movie about this disease and thought it was very terrifying. It was like a disease from another planet. As a Chinese person working for MSF, I feel proud of myself. I have come to this place, come to understand this disease, and put forth a bit of my own effort.
© WANG Ya/ MSF
6. How does it feel to be a Chinese person working in an emergency mission fighting an Ebola outbreak?
7. What were the working conditions like in the beginning?
The working conditions were very bad. We were essentially using outdoor camping equipment, and everything was very basic. Many people were living together in one room and we were all eating poorly because supplies had not arrived yet. My main duty was to arrange housing for project staff, recruit local staff, sign work contracts, and buy any office equipment that could be found. Because there was no electricity, all the work contracts were written by hand. Now that the first shipment of supplies has arrived, we are all eating much better.
8. What did you see today when you went to the hospital ward? What were your reflections?
© WANG Ya/ MSF
I went to the hospital ward to take a look at how our money is being spent and what has been setup. The weather here is very hot, between 35℃ and 40℃. You would feel really hot just wearing a t-shirt. But our medical staff have to spend 12 to 16 hours a day wearing full body protective gear. Today, I tried it once, and it made me feel really bad for them. Seeing the patients was even more difficult. The patients are very, very weak. They do not even have the energy to vomit or turn their heads. Their bodies are still in the same positions they laid down in when they first arrived. They cannot use the bathroom on their own and have to rely on the medical workers. I hope that the epidemic is quickly brought under control.
9. Did any of the patients leave you with a particularly strong impression?
I heard from one of the medical staff that on the first day two of his patients died. On the second day, four patients died. It was very difficult for us. The population here is not very large. It is very painful to see so many people surrounding you die everyday. These circumstances are very rare in normal life. When I went to the hospital ward today, my deepest impression was of the patients lying there without a single bit of energy. But because we do our work well, none of our patients are suffering from hemorrhaging symptoms. People in the late stage of an Ebola infection will often bleed from many places. I've heard doctors say that they even bleed from their eyes. I think this must be very painful.
10. What plans are there for the future?
At the present time we only operate from one location in Bundibugyo. Because this disease is unlike other diseases, each patient needs a lot of special attention. For example, we had cases in Angola where two patients required the care of 19 medical workers. Here, each day we have about 23 patients, but we only have 2 overseas doctors, 2 overseas nurses, 3 local doctors, and 3 local nurses to watch them. Since we do not have a lot of staff right now, we focus on one location. Our logisticians are planning on building another isolation unit in Kykyo, and have guaranteed that it will be operational by Thursday (December 13) to serve patients over there.
In July of 2007, WANG Ya, an MSF field volunteer from Yunnan, China, was assigned to be the Financial Controller stationed in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
On December 4, Wang Ya received instructions to travel to the west of Uganda bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to assist in areas affected by an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever. She is the first Chinese citizen to volunteer with MSF in an emergency mission to fight Ebola. On December 11, she spoke over the phone about her first week’s experience of frontline work in an epidemic area.