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Ebola Photographer Introduces The West To Outbreak's Victims


If you watched any TV news today, you probably saw images of an ambulance making its way to the streets of Atlanta. The ambulance pulls up to hospital carrying an American infected with the Ebola virus. The whole trip was narrated by CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And they're taking her now into the hospital. Yeah, obviously can't tell much more about her condition just from those images. You can see those suits though again - actually those Tyvek suits.

CORNISH: Those suits, and all the other precautions, stand in stark contrast to what you might see in Sierra Leone. That country has the most reported cases of Ebola, more than 600, and government's been calling for local quarantines to isolate infected people. But enforcement has been spotty. Photographer Tommy Trenchard has seen that firsthand in the capital, Freetown. Some of his photographs on our website, We reached him earlier today on Skype and we spoke to him about what he's seen.

TOMMY TRENCHARD: One image might not actually be representative of - of this crisis, which you have to remember, is still getting worse, not better - is that of a very young child who was being carried out of a MSF treatment center in Kailahun, having survived Ebola. She was passed over to her aunt by MSF staff wearing full protective gear and that - that's what's depicted in the photograph. But what is sad is that the - the girl's mother was still inside, still testing positive for Ebola. And her father had already been lost to the disease.

CORNISH: You spent time with the family of an Ebola a victim, taking pictures of them as they face this 21-day quarantine on homes exposed to the virus. Tell us a little bit about their background, about who had fallen out.

TRENCHARD: Yeah, she was a young woman who apparently was a hairdresser working in the east end of Freetown. And her family has a small house overlooking - overlooking the passenger ferry terminal there. She had actually sparked quite a bit of controversy at the end of July, when she was broken out of hospital by her family, triggering a kind of a manhunt through Freetown. She was found eventually at the clinic of a traditional healer - a lot of people here have some suspicion about hospitals and Ebola treatment centers. So plenty are still interested in seeking help from healers. She was also the first Ebola victim to contract the disease in Freetown itself - the capital.

CORNISH: Now, given what you've told us, the images don't look like what people here might expect when they hear a word like quarantine. Can you describe what the scene was at her home?

TRENCHARD: Yeah, absolutely. There was really very, very little precautions in place to prevent the family leaving home and to prevent others entering it. When we arrived - and actually I was back there today and the same applies. There were visitors and friends just hanging out in the house. Just two policemen enforcing - enforcing this quarantine. They generally seemed very disorganized and very, very relaxed.

CORNISH: And in your photos, these officers are in conversation with people who are - who are hanging about the house. But they're not wearing any protective gear or anything like that.

TRENCHARD: No, that's correct. I mean, outside of the perimeter of the house, there shouldn't really be any need to wear protective gear. If it hadn't been for the fact that these neighbors have been interacting with the quarantined family inside the house, the other problem also with this family - with this quarantined family - is that there is a huge stigma around Ebola and people are worried that they will be judged, and they - people will avoid them. At the same time as people are rejecting the idea of Ebola, many also - deeply afraid as you would imagine - those who see it firsthand, and I mean, you hear stories of health workers who get kicked out of their homes and completely ostracized by society, which is a fairly brutal reward for the dangerous job that they do.

CORNISH: Tommy Trenchard, thank you so much for speaking with us.

TRENCHARD: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: That was Tommy Trenchard, a photographer Freetown, Sierra Leone. You can see his photos on our global health blog which is called "Goats and Soda." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.