An NGO on the frontlines of the West Africa Ebola outbreak says the scale-up of the international response comes none too soon. SIM USA says more beds, medical supplies and personnel are needed to stem the spread of the epidemic.
SIM -- a Christian-based organization -- has had three of its personnel infected with Ebola. Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol have fully recovered, while Dr. Rick Sacra is expected to make a full recovery.
George Salloum, SIM’s crisis response team leader for Liberia, said, “We are in the thick of the battle trying to fight this disease. And we are continuing to see numerous new cases come up. And it does not seem to be slowing down right.”
Salloum is also SIM’s vice president of finance and operations. He said the Ebola outbreak in Liberia affects people whether they have the virus or not.
“People try to live a normal life as much as possible. But with the spread and the amount of families and individuals being affected by Ebola it’s touching the lives of many, many families throughout the country. There’s not a corner of the country that’s not being affected right now or families that are not being affected or friends who are not being affected. Everyday life is challenging. Transportation is hard. The cost of food is going up. Moving around the country is a little more difficult. Day to day activity is a little more strained. So it’s not an easy environment to survive in right now,” he said.
About 300 health workers in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have been infected with Ebola. But in Liberia, Salloum does not think it’s happening in isolation centers where infected patients are treated.
“If you think of the specific isolation unit where health care workers have the full personal protection equipment that they’re wearing – when they’re serving or dealing or ministering to the people who are infected with Ebola – there’s no evidence there’s been any transfer or transmittal of Ebola to health care workers in that context. That seems to be working well. The CDC guidelines seem to be effective,” he said.
CDC stands for the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The SIM USA official described more likely ways of Ebola infection.
“Where most of the transfer occurs is out in daily life where you may be eating with somebody. You might have some specific contact with people. Or if you’re the people native to Liberia, culturally they’re [in] very close community with each other. So just doing life together makes it possible to pass on. From a health care worker, it’s possible to work alongside infected health care workers and maybe when you’re washing up or cleaning up it’s possible that some fluids might transfer or sharing a meal with each other,” he said.
In regular hospital settings, health care workers could be infected, for example, while caring for those with malaria unaware that the patient may be carrying Ebola.
Salloum said that to contain the epidemic much more protection equipment, medical supplies and personnel are needed.
“But also setting up a special medical isolation unit where ex-pats can be treated is a major benefit to our people to allow more of our people to go back in and not have to worry about trying to be evacuated. They’re not afraid to go into the zone – the combat zone so to speak – and catch Ebola, as long as they know there’s a chance of being cared for.”
The U.S. military is expected to build the new isolation center in Liberia. Salloum said evacuating infected health care workers is very expensive and not always covered by insurance.
Chances of survival, he said, are greatly enhanced when Ebola patients have proper hydration and electrolyte blood levels of such things as magnesium, potassium and selenium.
While research continues on experimental Ebola drugs and vaccines, interest is growing in using the blood serum of survivors as a treatment. It was done in the case of Dr. Brantly, who received blood with Ebola anti-bodies from a young Liberian. Brantly, in turn, donated his blood serum to Dr. Sacra.