In October 2000, a deadly disease started to spread in the Gulu district. In Lacor Hospital, following the death of three nursing school students, Medical Director Dr Matthew Lukwiya suspected Ebola and immediately instituted control measures, setting up a special isolation ward and dedicated ambulance services. He contacted the Ministry of Health, which led to a rapid involvement of WHO and CDC Atlanta. The virus was confirmed to be Ebola on October 15. When they arrived in Lacor, international experts were astonished at the efficiency of the operation run at the Hospital. Dr. Simon Mardel, a member of the WHO team, stated:
“I had thought people would be unwilling to work. I thought we would be facing a situation where patients were totally neglected and an isolation ward to which people wouldn’t want to come because it would just be a mortuary, but they had implemented the manual – a very specialized recipe. They were giving highly sophisticated care. It was remarkable. There was even a little wooden device for pulling boots off they had made, exactly as the manual describes.” (J. Astill, The Guardian, 2 January 2001)
Patients were taken care of by volunteer staff. Since there is no treatment for Ebola, everybody knew they were risking their lives. As the crisis worsened, Lacor workers (doctors, nurses and student nurses) became infected and died. The team kept working 14 hours shifts for weeks in a row. Despite severe risk minimization procedures, by the end of the outbreak 13 staff had died. The last of Lacor Hospital staff to die, Dr Matthew Lukwiya, died on December 5, 2000. Few days before his death he had been heard to pray “Lord, I am dying in Your service. Let me be the last to die”.
A WHO operator commented that Lacor Hospital’s major risk factor in causing these deaths was its mission as a “compassionate hospital”, i.e. that the patients were not abandoned, but cared for and comforted despite the high risk to the staff.
The outbreak lasted from October 2000 to January 2001. More than 400 people in Gulu District were infected and slightly more than half of them died.
Lacor Hospital’s heroic staff who sacrificed their lives to hold faith to their mission:
Ajok Christine, Ayella Daniel, Aol Monika, Ognebo Helen, Sister Pierina Asienzo, Ojok Simon Victor, Kiya Florence, Akullu Grace, Auma Mary Immaculate, Lanyero Christine, Odota Margaret, Aryemo Santina, Matthew Lukwiya.
For further information:
American Medical Association: http://virtualmentor.ama-assn.org/2001/02/prol1-0102.html
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/20010218mag-ebola.html
The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,416866,00.html
Associated Press: http://www.ugandamission.net/health/news/ebola.html#01-1008