The first patient to be infected at the start of the current global Ebola outbreak has been identified as a two-year-old toddler from Guinea named Emile Ouamouno.
In a study for the New England Journal of Medicine, a team of experts had traced the disease to the village in Guéckédou, in southeastern Guinea, by reviewing hospital documents and speaking to those involved.
Now the identity of the very first traceable person to have contracted the disease – the so-called “Patient Zero” for the outbreak that has killed more than 4,900 people – has been revealed in a report exposing the long-lasting effects of stigma surrounding Ebola.
Speaking to the Daily Maverick’s Suzanne Beaukes, Etienne Ouamouno said his son Emile had “liked to listen to the radio” and “play with a ball” before he died on 6 December last year. His death was followed by that of his older sister and then his moth – but it was not until March 2014 that the spreading virus came to the attention of the World Health Organisation.
In the space of four months after Emile’s death, his village buried a total of 14 residents. But the agony is not over for those who survived – ostracised by nearby towns and cities, they became trapped in a cycle of isolation and further poverty.
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
1/7 25 March 2014
This outbreak of the Ebola virus first emerged in the Guéckédou region of Guinea, at a crossroads with both Liberia and Sierra Leone
2/7 31 March
On 31 March the WHO confirmed the outbreak was now international, spreading first into Liberia's northern-most Lofa region
3/7 27 May
The virus spread to Sierra Leone at the end of May - just as agencies were hoping the worst was over
4/7 27 July
In Sierra Leone the virus boomed, and then it spread to Nigeria when the Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew from Monrovia to Lagos
5/7 9 August
The Nigeria cases sparked fears around the world, and there have now been deaths in Spain and Saudi Arabia involving people who had travelled to West Africa. The numbers of cases continue to rise
6/7 17-20 September
In mid-September, Senegal confirmed its first case linked to the Ebola outbreak, a development the WHO described as a top priority emergency. Numbers of cases continued to grow exponentially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as experts warned they could number one million by January if not contained
7/7 8 October
Two cases of Ebola have now been reported in the US and Europe - the first times the virus has been contracted among health workers outside Africa
Fassou Isidor Lama, a child protection officer for the charity Unicef, said: “We noticed that with this crisis, which is almost a humanitarian catastrophe, people flee their villages, and abandon their families and their children.
“They reject the infected children and the other infected family members.”
Amadou Kamano, the chief of Emile’s village, said residents were no longer able to sell their farmed goods in the wider region because “nobody wants to buy our products”, and fear led those living at the Ebola epicentre to desperate measures. He said: “People burned everything. Now we are even poorer than we were before.”
Charting the transmission of Ebola from Emile’s family to the wider region and abroad, epidemiologists identified Guéckédou as lying at a crossroads between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, giving the disease easy access to these three worst-affected countries.Reuse content