Ebola claims hospital director who led battle against the deadly virus

KAMPALA, Uganda - When the dreaded Ebola virus struck northern Uganda, Dr. Matthew Lokwiya was among the first to treat victims. And he stayed on, often taking the worst cases and risking infection.

On Tuesday, the shy, determined doctor became the latest victim of the outbreak.

As director of Lacor Hospital in the northern town of Gulu, Lokwiya was one of the first to recognize that the patients admitted to his hospital with strange symptoms were suffering from a form of viral hemorrhagic fever, later identified as Ebola.

But after weeks of treating patients - and being credited for keeping the death toll remarkably low - Lokwiya became a patient himself on Nov. 30, and like many Ebola victims, he died soon after.

''He has been spearheading the fight against Ebola in Gulu and the country will miss him,'' said Alex Opio, assistant director for National Disease Control.

Lokwiya, who was in his early 40s, managed to appear calm despite the chaos that surrounded him. Even as he was converting a wing of the Roman Catholic Church-supported hospital into an isolation ward for Ebola victims, Ugandan soldiers brought in wounded from nearby battles with the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

Kenyan television quoted an unidentified World Health Organization official as saying Lokwiya may have contracted the virus while treating a nurse and friend who later died. Since the outbreak of the disease, 22 health workers have died of Ebola.

Three people died of Ebola in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu over the weekend, and five died in Masindi, 185 miles northwest of Uganda's capital, Kampala, Opio said. That brought the death toll from the outbreak to 156.

But international health officials say the toll could have been worse, and they gave all the credit for containing the outbreak to Lokwiya.

In some previous outbreaks, the death toll has reached 90 percent of those infected, while in Uganda the rate is just 40 percent.

At the hospital, a large, single-story complex with huge shade trees and gorgeous flower gardens, some 10 doctors worked on Ebola patients. Lokwiya helped care for some of the worst cases.

International health workers, who arrived to help Lokwiya's team with the Ebola outbreak, were amazed at how quickly the hospital staff adopted advanced nursing techniques based on a few pages faxed to them from Geneva out of a medical textbook.

When praised for his work, Lokwiya deflected credit to his staff and the Ugandan people.

''We have historically, even from pre-independence days, placed great importance on health and education,'' Lokwiya told The Associated Press in an interview in October. ''There is a culture (in Uganda) that has put us ahead of neighboring countries.

Lokwiya praised his staff for not fleeing the hospital when the virus was identified, even though several nurses had already died from the disease. He praised their courage, never acknowledging that he was leading the effort.

The fever caused by the Ebola virus is transmitted through body fluids. The disease can cause severe hemorrhagic fever and is often fatal, but victims aggressively treated with fluids to fight dehydration stand a better chances of survival. In all, 393 cases of the disease, which has no known cure, have been reported since the outbreak was confirmed in Uganda.


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