“It was a sad beginning,” says Dr Marie-Claire Kolié, who has worked at MSF’s Ebola management centre in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, since the epidemic began. On 23 October 2015, Mamasta, a heavily pregnant woman from Forecariah, was admitted to the centre. Mamasta had already lost a family member to the virus, and tests showed that she too had the disease.
Four days later, Mamasta went into labour and gave birth to a baby girl. As a haemorrhagic disease, Ebola brings an increased risk of serious bleeding. During the birth, Mamasta lost a lot of blood. “All of the staff desperately wanted the mother to pull through, but her condition rapidly deteriorated after the birth,” says Dr Marie-Claire. Hours later, Mamasta died. Dr Marie-Claire felt both shocked and saddened at her death. “In my heart, I thought she would survive,” she says.
No one expected the baby, who had been born with Ebola, to survive for long. During the epidemic, no babies born to infected mothers have been known to live for more than a few hours. But despite the poor prognosis, and the challenges of caring for a newborn baby in an isolation zone while wearing protective clothing, the medical team was determined to save her.
“Caring for a newborn who was unable to express her pain was difficult,” says Dr Marie-Claire. “But we did not give up; we set up round-the-clock care.”
Named Nubia after an MSF nurse, the staff also called her ‘the queen’.
Nubia was given two experimental drugs – ZMapp and GS-5734. Every hour, a team of doctors took it in turns to check her breathing and heart rate. Nursery nurses went into the isolation zone at regular intervals to rock her, feed her and change her nappies.
It was a very tense time for the team. “She was very sick many times and complete panic would set in,” says Dr Marie-Claire.
But gradually Nubia’s condition improved, and one month later, tests showed that Nubia had beaten the virus. On 28 November, Nubia was discharged from the Ebola management centre and returned to her family.
“I was very happy,” says Dr Marie-Claire. “I would like to thank all the staff, international and local, for the support and care they gave our final patient.”
Nubia is not out of danger yet. Many Ebola survivors suffer continued health problems long after they have beaten the disease, and MSF will continue to provide Nubia with medical support, just as it provides free medical assistance and psychosocial support to other Ebola survivors and their families, and to medical staff who have been in direct contact with Ebola patients.
If 42 days go by without any new cases, the epidemic, which has claimed some 11,300 lives in West Africa, will be officially over in Guinea. As the country gears itself up for this moment, MSF is getting ready to open a clinic in Conakry for survivors of the disease.
Since March 2014, MSF teams in West Africa have treated 10,288 Ebola patients in West Africa, including 1,932 patients in Conakry, Guinea.