This blog was originally posted on the ONE.org on September 11, 2014.
During my time in Liberia, I have tried not to provide much detail to my family about the day-to-day work we are doing.
I don’t want to cause alarm or propagate fear; conditions in Monrovia can at times be deeply troubling.
I have spent the past month working to help control the Ebola outbreak in Liberia as part of the United States Government’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART.
Our work here has been nonstop and it doesn’t appear that the end of the epidemic will be anytime soon. There are days when there is palpable tension in the air, especially when a new community experiences Ebola virus transmission for the first time, or experiences a second or third wave of disease.
I have seen what needs to be done to stop Ebola from spreading – find patients quickly, isolate and treat them, identify their contacts and safely bury those that die. But the scale of this Ebola outbreak is unprecedented.
The systems currently in place to identify, refer, isolate and treat Ebola cases are overwhelmed. Knowledge of how the disease is spread varies from community to community, and unsafe burial practices continue to take place far and wide.
In addition, the international response has not been enough. This is in part due to fear that is fostered by ongoing transmission of infection among health care workers with inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment, soap and clean water, and incomplete understanding of required infection control practices, or both.
As part of the DART, our goals are to help partners find people with the virus in the community, get them into Ebola treatment centers and improve infection control practices to prevent the spread of the virus to health care workers and burial teams.
I have worked with many Liberians, our CDC team, and partners in the field who are at the front of the response, and I’m amazed by their dedication in this challenging environment.
As just one example, Dr. Mohammed Sankoh, Director of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare’s Redemption Hospital in Monrovia is now managing a primary care facility that is being overrun by suspected Ebola patients.
He has lost many of his staff (doctors, nurses, a physician assistant and a midwife) to Ebola. His remaining staff are fearful of coming to work, and his community is increasingly afraid of coming to the hospital, with many preferring to die at home.
In his own words “When we had our civil war, we knew who we were fighting, but with Ebola, the enemy is invisible, and it is taking us in increasing numbers.”
We simply need more people to step up to help supply, train and equip Liberian nationals to take on the epidemic.
The work is challenging, yet highly rewarding. The United States’ effort in Liberia is but one cog in a larger wheel of the response that is striving to save lives. However, I am certain that the epidemic would be even worse without our presence.
I am grateful to be able to contribute to the fight against this scourge. And the Liberian people are thankful that the U.S. has not abandoned them.
We need others to join in the fight against Ebola. But let’s not stop there.
To prevent such public health events, all countries need to have the capability to prevent the spread of infectious disease threats quickly, detect them accurately, and respond to them effectively.
It is heartbreaking to see countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia trying to tackle this epidemic with inadequate public health infrastructure and trained public health and medical workforce that could have averted it with modest investment.
It is a global health security imperative to contain Ebola in West Africa and to prevent its spread across the continent and beyond.