The Lassa Ward: a book review

The Lassa Ward by Ross Donaldson (2009)

I recently read The Lassa Ward: One Man’s Fight Against One of the World’s Deadliest Diseases by Ross Donaldson. Donaldson was a medical student working in Sierra Leone, fighting Lassa fever with the late Dr. Aniru Conteh at the Kenema Government Hospital.

Street scene, Kenema, Sierra Leone (photo: Patrick S. Bangura)

Donaldson’s story touches on some of the same public health challenges as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It therefore sheds some light on that ongoing medical crisis, as well as reminding us that Ebola is far from being the only medical problem in that part of the world. This fascinating and somewhat disturbing memoir is well worth a read.

We soon pulled off the road and parked next to a small porch, where an anemic light guarded a few empty tables. As we sat down, our driver greeted the waitress. ‘How dee body?’ he said in a singsong timbre. ‘Dee body fine,’ the woman replied with a welcoming smile. I tried to follow the pair’s conversation in Krio, Sierra Leone’s official language, but could identify only a few words of the English-based dialect that freed slaves had brought back to Africa.

… From the moment I had first heard about the dreaded Lassa virus, during my second year of medical school in a sterile California classroom that now felt very far away, I had been drawn to the illness. The disease is one of four famed VHFs (including Ebola, Marburg, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever) that share a terrifying tendency to spread from person to person, as well as a gruesome clinical picture of massive bleeding frequently leading to death. … During that time, Lassa became a symbol to me of something different, of foreign adventure and unquestionable need.

The Lassa Ward by Ross Donaldson: 3½ stars


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