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Hospital staff exposed in Africa —Survivors


Hospital staff exposed in Africa —Survivors

Medical workers mobilise against Ebola in Sierra Leone
Ebola Virus Disease, no doubt, has become a huge challenge to the
African continent where the health care facilities, at the best of time,
have been suspect. Apart from Nigeria, where the management of the EVD
has been surprisingly wonderful and commended, the other countries in
the West African region, that have been afflicted with the Ebola virus,
do not have success stories to tell.

The complaints have been the typical
shortcomings associated with the delivery of health care in the sub
continent—inadequate trained personnel and up-to-date facilities—and
this have been hampering the work of delivering the people from the
killer scourge. Worse still, the inadequacies do not give hope for
timely taming of the deadly virus.

These shortcomings in the continent are the focus of a report by the Associated Press. The report quotes survivors of the EVD.
The report says a missionary couple
confirm that the hospital in Liberia, where three American aid workers
got sick with Ebola, has been overwhelmed by a surge in patients and
does not have enough hazard suits and other supplies to keep doctors and
nurses safe.
The latest infection of Rick Sacra, a
doctor who wasn’t even working in the hospital’s Ebola unit, shows just
how critical protective gear is to containing the deadly epidemic, and
how charities alone cannot handle the response, they said.
Nancy Writebol and her husband, David, called for reinforcements during the AP
interview, which followed her first news conference since recovering
from Ebola disease. They work for North Carolina-based SIM, the charity
that supports the ELWA hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.
About 250 staffers at the hospital use
thousands of disposable protective suits each week, but that’s not
enough to fully protect the doctors and nurses who must screen people
entering the emergency room or treat patients outside the 50-bed Ebola
isolation unit, they said.
“We don’t have enough personal protective
safety equipment to adequately be able to safely diagnose if a patient
has Ebola. So they are putting themselves at risk,” David Writebol said.
Sacra, 51, a doctor from suburban Boston
who spent 15 years working at the hospital, felt compelled to return
despite these challenges. As soon as he heard that Dr. Kent Brantly and
Nancy Writebol were sick, Sacra called and said “I’m ready to go,” SIM
President, Bruce Johnson, said.
Sacra’s job was to deliver babies and
care for patients who were not infected with Ebola. He helped write the
protocols for handling Ebola, his brother Doug said, and he followed all
the protections, said Will Elthick, the group’s operations director in
But Sacra got infected nonetheless by the
virus that has killed more than 1,900 people and sickened 3,500 in five
West African nations.
The disease is spreading faster than the
response for lack of protective gear and caregivers, said Tom Kenyon of
the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. At least $600 million
is urgently needed to provide these tools and extra hazard pay so that
more doctors and nurses are willing to risk their lives, the World
Health Organization said Wednesday.
Health care workers at other West African hospitals have gone on strike demanding more protections, the Writebols said.
“They see colleagues who have fallen.
They don’t want that to happen to them. But they are saying, ‘I can’t go
to work safely until there is personal protective equipment available —
the right gear, the right procedures in place. And then, if they don’t
go to work, are they going to get paid?” David Writebol said.
The Writebols left Charlotte for Africa
several years ago; David helped with the hospital’s technology while
Nancy helped dress and disinfect people entering and leaving the Ebola
unit at ELWA, which stands for Eternal Love Winning Africa.
Liberians were already struggling to
survive when they got there, but with Ebola it’s chaos — the number of
patients is surging, finding food and supplies is more costly, schools
are closed and people with common injuries or even mothers in childbirth
can’t get care.
Ebola has “overwhelmed the supply chain,”
David Writebol said. “They can’t get equipment in because there aren’t
any regular flights coming in. Same thing with aid workers from the
international community. There are only a limited number of seats
available to come into Liberia. … That’s one of the biggest problems —
getting medicine, protective gear and supplies for health care workers
who are there.”
Nancy Writebol said people who showed up
at the emergency room with symptoms were ushered into triage. But health
workers were sometimes exposed as they screened patients who may not
have known or advertised that they were carrying the virus.
And sometimes, the sick would leave
before finding out if they had Ebola. “Those are the people you really
worry about going back into the community, because if they are sick with
Ebola, it will ultimately spread,” she said.
Sacra immediately got tested for Ebola
after coming down with a temperature, and like his colleagues, went into
isolation to avoid spreading the virus, his brother Doug Sacra told the
Some other doctors haven’t been so rigorous.
The WHO announced today that a doctor in
southern Nigeria was exposed by a man who evaded surveillance efforts,
and then in turn exposed dozens of others by continuing to treat
patients after he became ill. Before he died, his family and church
members laid their hands on his body in a healing ritual.
Now his widow and sister are sick and about 60 others in the city of Port Harcourt are under surveillance, the agency said.
Sacra, who left his family at home for
this latest trip to Africa, was in good spirits Wednesday and able to
send emails, Elthick said. That could mean he’s physically well enough
to be evacuated.
His wife, Debbie, said in a statement
that she’s focusing on her husband, but she said “Rick would want me to
urge you to remember that there are many people in Liberia who are
suffering in this epidemic and others who are not receiving standard
health care because clinics and hospitals have been forced to close.
“West Africa is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, and the world needs to respond compassionately and generously,” she said.
It’s not clear where Sacra would be
treated in the US Experts say any fully-equipped hospital that follows
safety protocols could prevent an American outbreak while caring for an
Ebola patient. But there are four high-level isolation units designed
especially to handle dreaded infectious diseases.
The largest is at the Nebraska Medical
Center in Omaha, which was told to prepare to receive a patient, but
they were told the same thing before Brantly and Writebol were evacuated
instead to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, medical center
spokesman Taylor Wilson said Wednesday.
The other two units are National Institutes of Health facilities in Maryland and Montana.
Meanwhile, health care workers in Africa are dealing with the impossible every day.
“To watch so many people suffer and die was horrendous. It was horrible some days,” Nancy Writebol said.
“But, to be able to encourage their
families and to come alongside families that are grieving, there’s hope
in that. And to be able to see a survivor? I mean, oh my goodness. To
watch that little boy walk out as a survivor and then to see another
child who survived and then to hear — even today — that 12 walked out,
that’s what it’s about.”

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