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June 11, 1997

Ebola: A Documentary Novel of Its First Explosion

Author Affiliations

Wilmington, Del


by William T. Close, 404 pp, paper, $5.99, ISBN 0-8041-1432-3, New York, NY, Ivy Books, 1995.

JAMA. 1997;277(22):1817. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540460083047


In the 1960s we witnessed the startling exodus of refugees fleeing the Belgian Congo after its independence from Belgium in the much heralded "wind of change," which freed Africa from the shackles of colonial rule. This mass departure of trained professionals and other expatriates doomed the country's hopes of building a new and prosperous society. Instead there was chaos, civil war, the secession of Katanga province, and the emergence of a firebrand communist leader, Patrice Lumumba. General Mobutu usurped power and further impoverished the fledgling nation now called Zaire.

Yambuku, a mission run by Flemish nuns, was almost a Utopian haven of peace and prosperity in the core of Zaire. It was lush and green. It had a hospital, a school, and an agricultural society. In 1976, an incredibly brutal outbreak of a hemorrhagic fever changed things dramatically. It was called Ebola (named for a river near Yambuku). It