A Caring Doctor

UPDATE** Friends and well-wishers of Sierra Leone's Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan were pleased to learn Thursday that he is responding well to treatment at at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treatment center in Kailahun. According to a Ministry of Health on Facebook post, Dr. Khan is still stable.

In addition, Dr. Vandy Kanyako, who has acted as consultant for several local and international organizations including the National Democratic Institute in Washington D.C., posted this message on his Facebook wall:

"A CDC [United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] assessment team in a presentation to the American community at the American embassy in Sierra Leone this past Thursday reported seeing DR. Khan walking around the Ebola treatment facility in Kailahun, eastern Sierra Leone "asking for sprite and springles". He also reportedly made a phone call for the first time since his quarantine. Other reliable sources have also reported seeing him strolling around the MSF-managed facility. So it seems our collective prayers and well wishes are being heard. Let's keep them coming!"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014---Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health confirmed late Tuesday that Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan,  physician-in-charge of the Lassa fever program at the Kenema Government hospital, has been diagnosed and confirmed positive with the Ebola virus disease.

The doctor is reportedly receiving care at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treatment center in Kailahun.

"Dr. Khan treated and discharged more than 100 Sierra Leoneans with the deadly Ebola virus. By going into that treatment center and spending more than 12 hours daily just to save lives is a tremendous sacrifice," said Health Minister Miatta Kargbo in the press statement.

To date, 143 Sierra Leoneans have succumbed to Ebola. As of July 21, there were 409 confirmed cases of Ebola disease in Sierra Leone, with 98 survivors. The confirmed cases are in Kailahun, Kenema, Kambia, Port Loko, Bo, and Bonthe districts and the Western Area Urban.

"There is no cure but that does not mean we can't treat it with success," Tim Jagatic, a Canadian physician at the Doctors Without Borders hospital told NPR today. In the report, Jagatic said the human body can figure out how to combat it:

"This is just a virus. It's a virus like influenza. When we have influenza we know we stay home, take our fluids and let our bodies do the rest. That's the same thing that we are doing here. Our job is eliminating distractions for the immune system so it can create the anitbodies [that] cure the patient. So they can walk out."

Dr. Khan studied at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in medicine and a Bachelor in Surgery in 2001. As a young tropical medicine/infectious disease physician, Dr. Khan was recruited as a medical officer at the Directorate of Disease Prevention and Control, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, where he served for almost two years until 2005. He was appointed by the ministry as the chief physician to the Lassa Fever Program at the Kenema Government Hospital. Dr. Khan stepped into the shoes of his predecessor, the late Dr. Aniru Conteh who tragically died of Lassa fever from an accidental needlestick injury.

Lassa fever is an acute and sometimes severe viral hemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, a member of the virus family Arenaviridae. The virus is endemic in parts of West Africa, where an estimated 300,000–500,000 cases and 5000 related deaths occur yearly.

In his capacity as the chief physician of the Lassa fever program, Dr. Khan was concurrently contracted by then United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone as a contract physician and consultant for Lassa fever in Sierra Leone. From 2005 until 2010, Dr. Khan served as Physician In-charge of HIV/AIDS services at Kenema Govt. Hospital, and from 2006-2010 as physician consultant for the Mano River Union Lassa Fever Network, World Health Organization/Tulane University.

From 2010 until 2013, Dr. Khan conducted residency training in Internal Medicine at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana. Since completing his training he has returned to his field of work as physician in-charge, Lassa Fever Program, Kenema Government Hospital.

In January 2014, Dr. Khan was appointed associate lecturer at the Department of Medicine, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone. He is one of the world’s leading experts in the clinical care of viral hemorrhagic fevers.

Reuters reported Wednesday, July 23 that on a recent visit to the Kenema treatment center in late June, Khan said he had installed a mirror in his office, which he called his "policeman", to check for holes in his protective clothing before entering an isolation ward. According to the report, Khan said he feared Ebola.

"I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life," he said in an interview, showing no signs of ill health at the time. "Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk."


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