Home' Greymouth Star : December 10th 2014 Contents Benjamin Black
t is moments like this that I fear
A woman with Ebola is
wandering around naked and
screaming. A confused and
potentially aggressive patient
with a highly infectious, deadly disease
— separated from me only by my yellow
I heard the commotion while I was
working with patients in the high risk zone,
the area of the treatment centre reser ved
for confirmed Ebola cases. The screaming
woman had left high risk and was heading
for the low risk zone where Medecins Sans
Frontieres (MSF) staff do our paper work.
When I came outside, she lay down on
the concrete floor under the glare of the
scorching sun and rolled around moaning.
She was not aggressive, just distressed.
With the help of a Sierra L eonean staff
member, I protected her head from the
hard, concrete floor and carried her to bed.
It was hot work in our sweat-proof suits.
When I asked if she was in pain, she
pointed to her chest, and said: “My father
died, my mother died, my sister died,
But I had nothing to cure a broken heart
or a crushed soul — only a gentle hand on
her arm, a blanket and a sedative.
Each medical round is filled with sad
stories and practical challenges. With so
many patients, you can lose track of time
while helping someone to drink, providing
an intravenous line for another, finding
comforting words or pain relief for another
If we discover a patient who has died, we
straighten the body out before rigor mortis
sets in. Patients often die with contracted
limbs, making it hard to fit them into the
Since it began its Ebola intervention in
March, MSF has set up six Ebola centres
like this one in Sierra Leone, Guinea,
Liberia, and Mali, with a total capacity of
more than 600 beds.
Each day when I enter the Bo centre, in
southern Sierra L eone, the first thing I do
is take a look over the whiteboards filled
with patients’ names. Five weeks ago there
were three boards. Now there are seven.
With more than 60 patients and high
turnover due to admissions, discharges and
deaths, it is hard to keep track of everyone.
So we use a colour code to rank them in
severity. In recent days, the red marker pen,
for severe, has been getting a lot of use.
I try to organise the medical team early in
the shift so we can get as much done before
the sun is high. Entering the high risk area
requires what is called Personal Protective
Equipment. It is heavy, and to work in the
west African heat wearing this is incredibly
The centre is set up to minimise risk of
infection. In the high risk area, we work
through a one-way system, starting with
patients awaiting test results and ending
with those confirmed to have Ebola. That
way we do not risk infecting with Ebola
someone who has another disease, like
With a Sierra Leonean colleague, I go to
see the patients inside the “suspect ” area.
One girl today is a colleague’s daughter.
Ebola is not just something that happens
to other people here. It has struck family,
friends and staff too: MSF has some 300
international workers in the region but it
relies on 3100 locally hired people too.
Inside the next area — for patients who
probably have Ebola — the patients are
visibly sicker. Their test results are still
awaited but they have enough signs and
contact history for us to make a calculated
Among them is a two-year-old girl. She
is lying on the bed working hard to breathe.
I gently wake her and help her to take a
few sips of water. With so many patients
I cannot spend long with her so I make a
note for insertion of an intravenous line
and move on.
The final area, for patients confirmed with
Ebola, is made of three large, long white
tents. Most patients are well enough to
walk outside to talk with an MSF colleague
who sits across the plastic orange fence that
separates high risk from low risk.
I am only seeing those who cannot get
out of bed, and today there seem to be
Once my shift is over, I head to the fence
and call out the details of patients I’ve seen.
They must be written down by someone on
the other side of the fence because nothing
I use in High Risk can come out.
I then go for decontamination — a
system of undressing under direct
observation, with intermittent chlorine
Once I am out, I hear that three more
patients have died since I began the round.
They include the two-year-old girl.
It is only 10am.
The rest of the day comes with highs and
lows. Every day we discharge a group of
sur vivors. This happens to the banging of
drums and blowing of horns and reminds
us this is also a place of life, and resilience.
Each survivor receives counselling and
support to prepare them for re-entry to the
Since March, nearly 1900 people have
been discharged from MSF ’s centres —
almost half of about 4000 people who have
tested positive for Ebola in them. It is a
remarkable achievement against a disease
that has no known cure.
But the arrival of ambulances from across
the country quickly fills any spaces emptied
by death or discharge.
Ebola is now spreading faster in Sierra
Leone than anywhere else and despite
repeated calls for more treatment centres,
the country remains woefully under
resourced. Until we can break the chain of
transmission, days like this will continue
Benjamin Black is a British doctor
working as a volunteer with medical
charity Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors
Without Borders (MSF) fighting Ebola
in Sierra L eone, the country now at the
epicentre of the outbreak. — Reuters
4 - Wednesday, December 10, 2014
We appreciate the value of the Letters to the Editor
column as a public forum for West Coasters and
welcome your opinion and suggestions.
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must include your name, address, phone number
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uLetters to the editor
1520 - Martin Luther publicly burns the
Papal Bull excommunicating him from Roman
1851 - Melvil Dewey, US librarian, is born.
He devised a system of book classification used
in libraries worldwide.
1878 - Ned Kelly gang robs bank
at Euroa, Victoria, of 2,000 pounds.
1902 - The original Aswan Dam,
built by the British to control the
Nile floods, is completed.
1936 - King Edward VIII of
Britain abdicates with the intention
of marrying American divorcee
1964 - Dr Martin Luther King Jr receives the
Nobel Peace Prize during ceremonies in Oslo,
1987 - Death of Jascha Heifetz,
1995 - Nasa scientists receive the first data
from the space probe Galileo — a message
beamed over 3.7 billion kilometres.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Ada King Lovelace, English mathematician
and world’s first computer programmer
(1815-1852); Cesar Franck, Belgian composer
(1822-1890); Emily Dickinson, US
poet (1830-1886); Rumer Godden,
British author (1907-1986);
Dorothy Lamour, US actress-
entertainer (1914-1996); Billy
Dunk, Australian golfer (1938-);
Tommy Kirk, US actor (1941-);
Susan Dey, US actress (1952-);
Kenneth Branagh, British director (1960-);
Meg White, US rock musician (1974-); Josip
Skoko, Australian soccer player (1975-);
Summer Phoenix, American actress (1978-);
Xavier Samuel, Australian actor (1983-).
“ I dislike arguments of any kind. They are
always vulgar, and often convincing. ”
— Oscar Wilde, Irish poet, dramatist, author
“ No one has ever seen God; but if we love
one another, God lives in us and His love is
made complete in us.” — 1 John 4:12.
an upper sixth form
pupil at St Mary’s
High School, has had
double success this year. Not only has she been
awarded a studentship at university but she is
also dux of St Mary’s for 1964.
Margaret is a daughter of Mr and Mrs P W
Fisher, of Marsden Road, Greymouth. She
will, besides studying at university, also enter
training college as she intends to become a
secondary school teacher.
Dux of the newly-named Westland High
School this year is the head prefect, Paul
Higgins, of Stafford Street, Hokitika.
With pumps working, the Greymouth fishing
boat Giorgina was being hastily unloaded
of her crayfish haul on the Grey River this
morning. Giorgina was holed at 9 o’c lock
yesterday morning at Arnott Point, just north
of Haast. The sea at first surged her up on to
the rock and the next surge took her off. Th e
pumps were found to be keeping the water
below safety level so Giorgina set out for her
home port, Greymouth.
Owned by ex-All Black Mr Frank Freitas,
Giorgina is skippered by Mr Phil Prendergast
who has Mr Lewis Paul as crew member.
The dream of every boy of every age will
come true for four Greymouth Venturer Scouts
in January. They will invade the swampy,
mosquito-ridden land of the Cascade on
a treasure hunt. Legend is strong in South
Westland that somewhere down there, there is
a gumboot full of gold hidden in a tree.
The four scouts are Warren Inkster, Vincent
Jacobs, Roger Howell and Garry Hopkinson.
They will be led by Bruce Bertram.
uFood for thought
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A radical form of gene therapy that
remodels eye cells into light receptors could
restore sight to people who are completely
The new approach is able to create
replacement photoreceptors from cells that
do not normally react to light.
In early tests on blind rescue dogs with
an inherited disease similar to the human
condition retinitis pigmentosa, scientists
were able to restore sufficient light
sensitivity for the animals to distinguish
between flashing and non-flashing lights.
Blind mice given the same treatment
became as good at navigating a water maze
as normal mice.
The research, reported in the journal
Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, sets the stage for future clinical
trials in humans with degenerative eye
Two components of the hybrid treatment
involve a gene that alters non-light sensitive
cells and an injected chemical ‘photoswitch’.
United States lead scientist Professor
Ehud Isacoff, from the University of
California at Berkeley, said: “ The dog has
a retina very similar to ours, much more
so than mice, so when you want to bring a
visual therapy to the clinic, you want to first
show that it works in a large animal model
of the disease.
“ We’ve now showed that we can deliver
the photoswitch and restore light response
to the blind retina in the dog as well as in
the mouse, and that the treatment has the
same sensitivity and speed of response. We
can reanimate the dog retina.”
The therapy is one of a number of
potential treatments for blindness at early
stages of development, two of which
yielded exciting trial results this year.
In October scientists from the US
company Ocata Therapeutics, formerly
known as Advanced Cell Technology,
showed that stem cell-derived retinal cells
could safely be implanted into patients and
improve vision in some cases.
Earlier this year scientists at Oxford
University hailed trial results from a genetic
therapy for choroideremia, a rare inherited
cause of blindness that affects one in 50,000
Inserting a missing gene called REP1
prevented progression towards blindness
and led to dramatic improvements in sight
for two men at an advanced stage of vision
The new treatment employs a virus to
insert a gene into normally non-light
sensitive cells in the retina that gives them
the potential to “see”.
The gene makes a protein that acts like a
lock. When the right molecular key from
the photoreceptor switch is slotted into the
lock, light sensitivity is turned on.
At present a new injection of the
photoswitch has to be made every week to
maintain its effect, since the molecule is
naturally removed after a period of time.
Several of the dogs have been treated and
are currently undergoing tests to determine
what level of light sensitivity they now
have. — PA
Gene therapy offers hope for the blind
Haka v Morris
Re haka ‘circus display ’. Interesting
reading Oliver Brown’s comments about
our All Blacks and our “ancient tribal
dance” the haka, as described in the
Greymouth Star (November 7).
Of course, the British Isles teams can
perform their ancient tribal dance, the
Morris Dance, with all its fine regalia.
The dance will draw energy into the team
instead of standing around in their half of
the field while our All Blacks perform the
It will trigger a paroxysms of
excitement and sterling entertainment
and will become a sacrosanct ancestral
performance, rousing the players into
a frenzy for the realities of impending
The ferocity and vibrancy of the dance as
a spectacle will signal a desire to stomp all
over the opposing team.
James Mason Russell
Further to my recent obser vations about
increasingly meaningless bureaucratic
mumbo-jumbo I note a recent article by
a highly-regarded Australian journalist,
Bernard Salt, who highlighted the
stupidity of one of the bureaucrats’ (and
politicians’) favourite terms, ‘stakeholders’.
Mr Salt ’s comments (The Australian,
November 22-23) included the following:
‘ When did these stakeholders infiltrate
the bureaucracy and the corporate world?
If you are in politics then you simply must
use terms like stakeholder. The more senior
you are, the greater the stakeholder-per-
normal-word count ’. Space precludes my
quoting at greater length but his references
to other jargon became more amusing
the further he went into the world of
Of course, there have been many claims
by DHBs that ‘stakeholders’ includes
the general public — but woe betide any
humble individual actually claiming any
rights under that definition.
The meaninglessness of the
term stakeholder as regards public
representation in the corridors of health
system power is demonstrated by one
current West Coast area health committee
— or stakeholder group as they insist
on calling it — which has DHB staff
outnumbering members of the public.
This, of course, ensures that the West
Coast DHB (and their Wellington/
Christchurch-driven agendas) take
precedence just as the set-up of DHB
boards ensures that the public’s elected
representatives are powerless to promote
It is time the expression ‘stakeholders’
was confined to its more appropriate field
— that of disposing of vampires in horror
films. It has no place in rational discourse.
NZ Democrats for Social Credit
Kumara Gala Day
A big ‘thank you’ to everyone who
participated and attended our recent
gala day. Despite atrocious weather, and
the event accommodated in the Kumara
Memorial Hall, it was a success. ‘ Thank
goodness we still have a wonderful
community hall’ was voiced regularly.
Formal ceremonies welcomed Deputy
Consul-General for the Consulate-
General of the Peoples Republic of China,
Dr Chu Yanli, Steven Ma, president of
the Guang Dong Association, and Don
Yee, vice-president of the Guang Dong
Association and representing the Tai Shan
Our trust were grateful for support from
Damien O’Connor (MP Labour), Mayor
Mike Havill and Mayor Tony Kokshoorn,
who attended in their official capacity.
The two associations presented Kumara
and Ross community groups a fundraising
cheque for the two Chinese garden
projects being developed. These funds are
specifically tagged for traditional Chinese
features for the two gardens.
The traditional Chinese music and
dancing added a special flavour. Everyone
enjoyed this aspect of the day and our
community presented a vibrant first
impression to Westland for our visitors.
Special thanks to the Kokatahi Band,
Westland Brass Band, i-Sites, Shantytown,
marching girls, Westroads, Sentinel
Transport and other people who helped
make the day a success.
The two garden projects will enhance
our communities and the wider West
Coast region on numerous levels. After
the weather we experienced on gala day,
building the memorial garden to a high
standard to withstanding wild West Coast
weather is a sensible way for ward.
The Kumara Chinese Memorial Garden
is an exciting and positive project, with
the extra bonus of enhancing our already
wonderful community events. ‘ Thanks’ to
everyone who helped our gala day in large
and small ways, we appreciate the support.
Kumara Residents’ Trust
Re the dangerous parking of boat trailers
at the boat park on the foreshore of Lake
Brunner, Moana, to the pedestrian public.
When the park is full there is nowhere
for the public to walk other than the
middle of the busy road. This has been
pointed out several times to the council
and Department of Conser vation, but to
The danger to women with prams and
young children, and the elderly, does
not seem to worry the council or DOC
one bit. How did they get a consent for
this park when the TCD (traffic control
devices manual) says that when assessing
resource consent applications it should
ensure that all potential impacts on
pedestrians have been fully considered,
assessed and mitigated? This includes the
walking routes through car parks.
I grew up in Cobden and one source of
food was from the fish, ducks, watercress,
blackberries, plus crawlies, and pipi located
in the arms of the Grey River, flowing up
the numerous creeks that flowed from the
hills behind Cobden.
There were two I could remember, one
flowed around where Stratford Street hits
the quay, ‘Henry Stones Creek’ the other
ran out about where Newcastle Street hits
the quay, ‘Uddstrom’s Creek’. There were
This had me thinking, so I headed to
Cobden. There were those creeks flowing
out the Grey River side of the floodwall
through pipes with flaps on the end,
to stop any river water flowing back
through the pipe to the Cobden side. I
had suggested this to the council probably
about three years ago, to allow Range
Creek the same type of outlet.
However, this being a costly job working
in the tidal area of the river, I let it drop.
They also had the cut to the sea, only
requiring just a few hours’ work with an
excavator to remove the ‘plug’ as they
There were several other pipes with flaps
on to take the waters out through the
floodwall. There were even sumps on the
Cobden side to take surface water through
the floodwall to the river side. There were
also pumping stations to pump the waters
beyond the floodwall. While on the river
edge I was convinced Range Creek also
had pipes with flaps allowing it to drain
to the river, but that the pipes had been
How was this allowed to happen?
How was someone allowed to put a hole
halfway up the wall too high for Range
Creek to drain through, but a height
where both the tide and the floodwaters
had to rise 2m high, where their titanic
battle occurred, before cascading through
the council’s hole endangering those at the
For the period, I have opposed the
flooding of Cobden the cut, the channel
and the plug have been blazoned as the
saviour of those homes in the lower area of
Cobden. How long do they intend to fool
those people in those homes?
For the less than three years I lived in
Cobden some homes have been flooded
three times. The flood has reached as far as
Bright Street. Not once did the waters of
‘duck pond’ enter the pond end of the cut.
This tells me those who destroyed the
floodwall were fools, they had to know the
cut was not deep enough to stop the flood,
they let in through the floodwall, from
flooding those homes.
Normally their levels would tell them
this. Just seeing the water levels would tell
As for the ‘hole in the wall’, it should be
buried when the floodwall is reinforced
and a plaque erected stating how to
obtain nothing for several million dollars
of ratepayers’ money. I recommend every
ratepayer visit the spot the day before
Health workers, suited up in protective gear, ready to treat Ebola victims in Sierra Leone.
On Ebola’s front line
Benjamin Black, while off duty.
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