Recognising that mental illness in Sierra Leone is typically seen as a spiritual rather than a medical problem, two young doctors, one American and one Sierra Leonean, tried to establish a cooperative arrangement with a faith healer and a renowned (and feared) witch doctor. I saw things on this trip that I cannot explain.
Koidu is the capital of the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, the area that was the epicentre of the country's 11-year diamond-driven civil war. With a population variously estimated at between 80 - 110,000, Koidu has the rough, single-minded feel of the mining towns in old Westerns. There is no electricity, no running water and virtually no paved roads, and signs of the desperate hustle for diamonds are everywhere.
Koidu is the capital of the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, the area that was the epicentre of the country's 11-year diamond-driven civil war. With a population variously estimated at between 80 - 110,000, Koidu has the rough, single-minded feel of the mining towns in old Westerns. There is no electricity, no running water and virtually no paved roads, and signs of the desperate hustle for diamonds are everywhere.
Kanye witch doctor, Alusaine Kamara, unlocks the door to the room where violent patients suffering from mental illness are confined. He claims to have the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or enlists the help of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare.
Kanye witch doctor, Alusaine Kamara, unlocks the door to the room where violent patients suffering from mental illness are confined. He claims to have the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or enlists the help of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare.
A mentally unwell man lying on the floor of the bare room where Kanye witch doctor, Alusaine Kamara, confines violent patients. Kamara claims to have the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or enlists the help of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare.
A mentally unwell man lying on the floor of the bare room where Kanye witch doctor, Alusaine Kamara, confines violent patients. Kamara claims to have the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or enlists the help of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare.
Mentally unwell patients of Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, in the room where they are confined. When the witch doctor deems it necessary, they may be chained to the log before them - scars on their ankles attest to this. The witch doctors says demons are at the root of their ills, and claims to have the power to communicate and negotiate with the demons or, if necessary, battle them with demon allies. Wellbody Alliance doctors feel schizophrenia is more likely the cause of the mens' condition, and are trying to build a bridge between the witch doctor and the clinic to enable patients such as these to receive what the doctors consider to be more appropriate treatment.
Mentally unwell patients of Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, in the room where they are confined. When the witch doctor deems it necessary, they may be chained to the log before them - scars on their ankles attest to this. The witch doctors says demons are at the root of their ills, and claims to have the power to communicate and negotiate with the demons or, if necessary, battle them with demon allies. Wellbody Alliance doctors feel schizophrenia is more likely the cause of the mens' condition, and are trying to build a bridge between the witch doctor and the clinic to enable patients such as these to receive what the doctors consider to be more appropriate treatment.
Dr Mohamed Bailor Barrie, co-founder of the Wellbody Alliance, with Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, near Koidu in the Kono district of eastern Sierra Leone. Alusine says he has the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or enlists the help of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare. Barrie and his partner Dr Dan Kelly are trying to build a bridge between the witch doctor and the clinic to enable the witch doctor's patients to receive treatment in cases that Barrie feels are beyond the witch doctor's capabilities. There is much mistrust on both sides.
Dr Mohamed Bailor Barrie, co-founder of the Wellbody Alliance, with Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, near Koidu in the Kono district of eastern Sierra Leone. Alusine says he has the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or enlists the help of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare. Barrie and his partner Dr Dan Kelly are trying to build a bridge between the witch doctor and the clinic to enable the witch doctor's patients to receive treatment in cases that Barrie feels are beyond the witch doctor's capabilities. There is much mistrust on both sides.
Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, says he awoke to find the ends of his fingers had been bitten off by demons while he was unconscious. He claims to have the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or enlists the help of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare.
Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, says he awoke to find the ends of his fingers had been bitten off by demons while he was unconscious. He claims to have the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or enlists the help of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare.
Eleven year-old Saffie, at the home of Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, in the Kono district of eastern Sierra Leone. As far as can be ascertained, Saffie, gravely ill, was taken to the government hospital, where she slipped into a coma. The hospital began to treat her from meningitis, but before the treatment could take effect, her family took her to the witch doctor, who says he treated her with herbs and exorcised a demon. She then regained consciousness, though at the time of this photograph was unable to speak. Her family credits the witch doctor with saving her life; western-trained Wellbody Alliance doctors Dan Kelly and Bailor Barrie think the medication she received at the hospital is responsible for her recovery. Kelly and Barrie convinced the witch doctor to allow Saffie to be taken to the Wellbody clinic for a check-up, where she was also found to be suffering from typhoid fever and malnutrition. They fear that she may also suffer long-lasting neurological effects of meningitis.
Eleven year-old Saffie, at the home of Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, in the Kono district of eastern Sierra Leone. As far as can be ascertained, Saffie, gravely ill, was taken to the government hospital, where she slipped into a coma. The hospital began to treat her from meningitis, but before the treatment could take effect, her family took her to the witch doctor, who says he treated her with herbs and exorcised a demon. She then regained consciousness, though at the time of this photograph was unable to speak. Her family credits the witch doctor with saving her life; western-trained Wellbody Alliance doctors Dan Kelly and Bailor Barrie think the medication she received at the hospital is responsible for her recovery. Kelly and Barrie convinced the witch doctor to allow Saffie to be taken to the Wellbody clinic for a check-up, where she was also found to be suffering from typhoid fever and malnutrition. They fear that she may also suffer long-lasting neurological effects of meningitis.
Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, claims to have the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or battles them with the aid of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare. He says he uses the device in the middle of the cloth on the wall to see the demons.
Kanye witch doctor, Alusine Kamara, claims to have the power to communicate with demons, and negotiates with them or battles them with the aid of demon allies to address cases of demonic possession or other forms of spiritual warfare. He says he uses the device in the middle of the cloth on the wall to see the demons.
A visiting reverend at an annual Thanksgiving Celebration at Mount Moriah Church of Christ in Koidu, the capital of Kono District, Sierra Leone. Church members gather to pray for the healing of those in need, including the mentally unwell, every three hours, day and night, seven days a week.
A visiting reverend at an annual Thanksgiving Celebration at Mount Moriah Church of Christ in Koidu, the capital of Kono District, Sierra Leone. Church members gather to pray for the healing of those in need, including the mentally unwell, every three hours, day and night, seven days a week.
Members of the Mount Moriah Church of Christ sing a song of praise as they make their way to an annual thanksgiving gathering.  Church members gather to pray for the healing of those in need, including the mentally unwell, every three hours, day and night, seven days a week.
Members of the Mount Moriah Church of Christ sing a song of praise as they make their way to an annual thanksgiving gathering. Church members gather to pray for the healing of those in need, including the mentally unwell, every three hours, day and night, seven days a week.
Members of the Mount Moriah Church of Christ during an annual thanksgiving gathering. Church members gather to pray for the healing of those in need, including the mentally unwell, every three hours, day and night, seven days a week.
Members of the Mount Moriah Church of Christ during an annual thanksgiving gathering. Church members gather to pray for the healing of those in need, including the mentally unwell, every three hours, day and night, seven days a week.
Schizophrenia patient, Moses (32), in his room above his brother's home where he lives in Koidu town in the Kono District of eastern Sierra Leone.
Schizophrenia patient, Moses (32), in his room above his brother's home where he lives in Koidu town in the Kono District of eastern Sierra Leone.
Moses (32), pictured in the room where he lives above his brother's home in Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone, suffers from schizophrenia. Moses says the year is 2003, which according to his brother is the year he fell ill. Though there does not appear to be a specific incident that triggered his illness, Moses says he hears planes and helicopters, possibly sounds from the fighting that raged around his home during the civil war that ended the year before he became unwell. Brought to the attention of the Wellbody Alliance through a partnership with  the Community Association for Psychosocial Services (CAPS), Moses has begun psychiatric treatment.
Moses (32), pictured in the room where he lives above his brother's home in Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone, suffers from schizophrenia. Moses says the year is 2003, which according to his brother is the year he fell ill. Though there does not appear to be a specific incident that triggered his illness, Moses says he hears planes and helicopters, possibly sounds from the fighting that raged around his home during the civil war that ended the year before he became unwell. Brought to the attention of the Wellbody Alliance through a partnership with the Community Association for Psychosocial Services (CAPS), Moses has begun psychiatric treatment.
Koidu is the capital of the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, the area that was the epicentre of the country's 11-year diamond-driven civil war. With a population variously estimated at between 80 - 110,000, Koidu has the rough, single-minded feel of the mining towns in old Westerns. There is no electricity, no running water and virtually no paved roads, and signs of the desperate hustle for diamonds are everywhere.
Koidu is the capital of the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, the area that was the epicentre of the country's 11-year diamond-driven civil war. With a population variously estimated at between 80 - 110,000, Koidu has the rough, single-minded feel of the mining towns in old Westerns. There is no electricity, no running water and virtually no paved roads, and signs of the desperate hustle for diamonds are everywhere.
Koidu is the capital of the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, the area that was the epicentre of the country's 11-year diamond-driven civil war. With a population variously estimated at between 80 - 110,000, Koidu has the rough, single-minded feel of the mining towns in old Westerns. There is no electricity, no running water and virtually no paved roads, and signs of the desperate hustle for diamonds are everywhere.
Koidu is the capital of the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, the area that was the epicentre of the country's 11-year diamond-driven civil war. With a population variously estimated at between 80 - 110,000, Koidu has the rough, single-minded feel of the mining towns in old Westerns. There is no electricity, no running water and virtually no paved roads, and signs of the desperate hustle for diamonds are everywhere.
Psychiatric patient, Samuel, believes he is Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. He painted the walls of his room, and says the figure on the wall next to him is his "spiritual interlocutor". He says he was inspired to paint the guitar after he saw God, who was walking towards him "playing a guitar in a rasta style". Local lore has it that he fell ill after he and a girlfriend married in the underworld. Wellbody doctors feels that substance-induced psychosis is a possible cause of his illness. Samuel chose his wardrobe for this portrait carefully, wanting to be seen as an intellectual.
Psychiatric patient, Samuel, believes he is Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. He painted the walls of his room, and says the figure on the wall next to him is his "spiritual interlocutor". He says he was inspired to paint the guitar after he saw God, who was walking towards him "playing a guitar in a rasta style". Local lore has it that he fell ill after he and a girlfriend married in the underworld. Wellbody doctors feels that substance-induced psychosis is a possible cause of his illness. Samuel chose his wardrobe for this portrait carefully, wanting to be seen as an intellectual.
A schizophrenia patient writes on a blackboard near his home in Koidu, in eastern Sierra Leone. Switching effortlessly between his right and left hands, he routinely covers the board in writings that are understood only by himself.
A schizophrenia patient writes on a blackboard near his home in Koidu, in eastern Sierra Leone. Switching effortlessly between his right and left hands, he routinely covers the board in writings that are understood only by himself.
Tambu, who lost his hands during the RUF's "short sleeve/ long sleeve" campaign of amputations and terror during the country's eleven-year civil war, prepares to put a cassette in his music player at his home near Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone.
Tambu, who lost his hands during the RUF's "short sleeve/ long sleeve" campaign of amputations and terror during the country's eleven-year civil war, prepares to put a cassette in his music player at his home near Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone.
Andrew (25, at left) is seen by Dr Dan Kelly in the makeshift stabilisation centre for psychiatric patients at the Wellbody Clinic in Koidu Town in eastern Sierra Leone. Andrew's father, Davison, says his son fell ill without warning - he came home from his job as a forest ranger and began acting strangely. Though not superstitious, Davison says the illness was so sudden it has made him consider the possibility that witchcraft is to blame.
Andrew (25, at left) is seen by Dr Dan Kelly in the makeshift stabilisation centre for psychiatric patients at the Wellbody Clinic in Koidu Town in eastern Sierra Leone. Andrew's father, Davison, says his son fell ill without warning - he came home from his job as a forest ranger and began acting strangely. Though not superstitious, Davison says the illness was so sudden it has made him consider the possibility that witchcraft is to blame.
Suffering from schizophrenia, Mohammed lives in an abandoned taxi behind his mother's home in Kueyor, in the Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone. Through its outreach work, the Wellbody Alliance is endeavouring to identify patients like Mohammed and provide them with basic treatment.
Suffering from schizophrenia, Mohammed lives in an abandoned taxi behind his mother's home in Kueyor, in the Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone. Through its outreach work, the Wellbody Alliance is endeavouring to identify patients like Mohammed and provide them with basic treatment.
Reverend Nyamia Senessie of the Mount Moriah Church of Christ leads members of his congregation in prayers for the healing of a member (kneeling). Members gather to pray, including for the healing of the mentally unwell, every three hours, day and night, seven days a week.
Reverend Nyamia Senessie of the Mount Moriah Church of Christ leads members of his congregation in prayers for the healing of a member (kneeling). Members gather to pray, including for the healing of the mentally unwell, every three hours, day and night, seven days a week.
Koidu is the capital of the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, the area that was the epicentre of the country's 11-year diamond-driven civil war. With a population variously estimated at between 80 - 110,000, Koidu has the rough, single-minded feel of the mining towns in old Westerns. There is no electricity, no running water and virtually no paved roads, and signs of the desperate hustle for diamonds are everywhere.
Koidu is the capital of the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, the area that was the epicentre of the country's 11-year diamond-driven civil war. With a population variously estimated at between 80 - 110,000, Koidu has the rough, single-minded feel of the mining towns in old Westerns. There is no electricity, no running water and virtually no paved roads, and signs of the desperate hustle for diamonds are everywhere.
A Wellbody patient, also named Mohammed, is one of those being treated through the mental health program. He had a tendency to wander, and family members say they had to restrain him with chains to prevent him from wandering - he once walked from his home near Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone to Makeni, a distance of some 160km. Though withdrawn and clearly still very unwell, since commencing treatment family members say he is calmer and no longer has to be restrained.
A Wellbody patient, also named Mohammed, is one of those being treated through the mental health program. He had a tendency to wander, and family members say they had to restrain him with chains to prevent him from wandering - he once walked from his home near Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone to Makeni, a distance of some 160km. Though withdrawn and clearly still very unwell, since commencing treatment family members say he is calmer and no longer has to be restrained.

You may also like

Back to Top