How the Ebola virus is affecting Peace Corps The Gambia

As of now, other than to cause anxiety, Ebola hasn’t had an affect on Peace Corps The Gambia. It is business as usual here for volunteers although we have a heightened awareness of who we interact with due to what’s going on in the region.

Three hundred and forty volunteers have been evacuated from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone where the largest Ebola outbreak in history is claiming many lives. The Peace Corps posts there temporarily suspended after two volunteers came in contact with someone who later died of the virus. They were quarantined before returning to the U.S., although they were asymptomatic.

There have been no reported cases of Ebola in The Gambia or Senegal. Peace Corps has not said what would constitute an evacuation here.

Peace Corps staff has been proactive about keeping us as informed as possible and has gone out of their way to hear our questions, although they don’t seem to have many answers. They said they are arranging a meeting with the World Health Organization, so we can ask the experts directly.

What I do know now is the disease is not easily transmitted because it is not airborne and can only be contracted through an exchange of fluids with someone who has the virus and is exhibiting symptoms. The reason it is spreading like wildfire is in part due to the traditional witchcraft beliefs and burial practices in many of the countries where the disease has been found. There is also a belief that Westerners are bringing the virus to West Africa. Due to that misnomer, sometimes people are “kidnapped” so they can “escape” Western medical care, so many victims are going without treatment. Many who have died so far were preparing bodies for burial or treating sick patients.

As an education volunteer in an entirely different country, I do neither of those things. I have appreciated the concern and will keep you updated if anything changes here in The Gambia.

–JDF