Bradley Stoke Sikh pensioner recalls Ebola outbreak experiences

Dr Harmandar Singh Gupta with late wife Diljeet Kaur Gupta (Gigi).

At the end of August, the World Health Organisation announced that over 11,000 people died as a result of the Ebola epidemic that hit West Africa in the past year. The news prompted one Bradley Stoke resident, retired Sikh doctor, Dr Harmander Singh Gupta to share with The Journal how he treated and survived Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, then Zaire) during the 1970s. He lived there with his late wife, Diljeet Kaur Gupta and their two sons; their youngest son, Tim Amardeep Singh Gupta was born there later in 1978.

Dr Harmander Singh Gupta was the only British doctor on the frontline in Kinshasa (former capital of Zaire) when the onset of Ebola ravaged a remote part of the country. He managed a Polyclinic (a healthcare facility treating a wide range of injuries, illness and disease) and looked after several embassies and British Companies including GKN and George Wimpey.

“I received reports from the government of Zaire that a mysterious illness was killing hundreds of Congolese. These reports were first lodged by CARITAS (Catholic Aid) and later confirmed by the World Health Organisation,” he recalls.

At that time, Kinshasa contained over half a million foreigners, mostly the business communities from France, Belgium, Portugal, Holland and India, but nobody knew what the disease was and therefore did not have the knowledge necessary to treat it.

“We were asked by the international companies and given advice by the school of Tropical Medicine to ensure that there was appropriate infection control in place. We were given immediate instructions to inject all foreign workers with human Gamma-Globulin to increase their immunity levels against most infections as a temporary measure. I am proud to say that we did indeed survive that terribly devastating time and I will always remain grateful for the help and advice I received from Dr Michael Phelan who contributed heavily towards preventing the spread of Ebola in Congo at that time.”

The disease was first identified in 1976 near the Ebola River in the DRC. The recent outbreak in Western Africa in 2014-1015 also left doctors and medical staff struggling to treat and contain the spread despite great advances in medicine in the past forty years. The World Health Organisation has reported nearly 28,000 cases resulting in over 11,000 deaths.

Dr Harmander Singh Gupta praises his late wife for her strong spiritual foundations in the Sikh faith, her strong sense of prayer and her good knowledge of infection control, which he believes helped save the lives of their family, including their youngest son who was born at the time.

Photo: Dr Harmander Singh Gupta with his late wife Diljeet Kaur Gupta (Gigi).

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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