Well, how should I write this review? Should I write this review of the book “Ebola: Behind The Mask” as a work of literature? As the work of a friend? As the work of a professional? In this review I will try and give an honest non-partizan account of what I got from “Ebola: Behind The Mask” by Andy Dennis & Anna Simon.
Since it’s identification in 1976 there have been 19 outbreaks of Ebola. The 2014-2015 outbreak in West Africa was by far the largest. In the book “Ebola: Behind The Mask” the authors have tried (and succeeded) to steer clear of statistical or microbiological analysis of the outbreak. Andy & Anna have passed comment for their hope of new vaccines for the illness, albeit with a slightly cynical view of what drives the major pharmaceutical companies to develop such drugs. Andy & Anna tell a human story; the story that matters most about the outbreak. It’s the story of the men, women and children that touched their lives whilst they were in Kailahun, a remote province in Sierra Leone.
The book draws from their personal journals that Andy & Anna kept whilst they were out there in Sierra Leone volunteering in an Ebola Management Center as part of the greater help offered by Doctors Without Borders/Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF). “Ebola: Behind The Mask” is an intense and personal account of an epidemic that moved me to tears.
The book starts with an elegant foreword penned by Tulip Mazumdar. As a literary work, the book’s style of prose is concise – to the point – and effortless – the text really flows. A testament to that fact is that I read the book in one sitting between 10pm and 3am tonight. It was a lightning quick, articulate, thought provoking account of a 5 week period in both the author’s lives. A period when the authors risked their own lives for the betterment of humanity on a personal, one-to-one level. A time when people were dying horrible deaths in their thousands.
The names of the patients have been altered in a bid to protect their identity. However, there is one story that came to sum up the whole of their experience in Sierra Leone for the authors – the case is of a small girl called Kadiatu. Kadiatu was two years old when she died from Ebola. The whole clinic new that Kadiatu only had a short while left on this planet but the team’s allowed time in that particular zone of the Ebola Management Centre was severely limited – due to risk to the carers. Andy and a nurse called Elisa held the hand of the dying Kadiatu for as long as they could …. to be honest, I am welling up just thinking of it. Damn it, they tried their best for two weeks to help Kadiatu fight Ebola – Andy & Anna’s account of the care given to that little girl …. wow! It really hammered the epidemic home on a an emotional level. Kadiatu died in a tent from an illness that makes you hemorrhage at the age of two years old. The staff did their best for her – and I am proud of their humanitarian work – but that little girl suffered immensely. The worst thing about her death (for me) is she is one example of thousands of similar cases. Andy has told me (and he mentions it in the Book) that he refers to Kadiatu during his presentations about the epidemic to this day. Why? Why? You may ask. Well, the whole point of the book is to show that the life of every Ebola victim mattered – I will continue to tell their story, along with Kadiatu’s, as long as I draw breath.
As I am a designer – I have to say that the £9.50 I invested in this book has not been wasted! I have purchased a piece of European art. The pages are of a great thickness, the font is crystal clear – the whole point of good typography is so that you do not notice it is there unless you are trying to make a design statement. The cover is sublime! The book has been published by Uitgeverij Aspekt. I have, however, been told that the profits from the sale of the book go towards MSF. You can read a portion of the book and order it from this link here to the page to “Ebola: Behind The Mask” on Amazon. I thoroughly recommend this book.
Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola in November 2015. However, a few new cases have emerged in January 2016. A number of agencies, including MSF & WHO, continue to monitor since Ebola still smoulders in West Africa.