Recovered Ebola missionary is ‘ready to go back’

28 November 2014

SIM

Health crisis in Liberia: Nancy and David Writebol speak to the media

Health crisis in Liberia: Nancy and David Writebol speak to the media

NANCY WRITEBOL was not afraid when she was diagnosed with the Ebola virus in Liberia on 26 July. "There was a wonderful peace that the Lord gave when I received the news that the test was positive," she said on Monday. "I knew that if I died I would be in the presence of the Lord, and that if I lived there were more things to be done for him."

Having received the all-clear at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, on 18 August, she believes that this further work includes pointing to the plight of her "brothers and sisters" in Liberia, where 20 new diagnoses are made daily. Brigadier General Frank Tate, a US general working there, reported on Monday a "dramatic improvement" - it had been 80 a day - but in Sierra Leone about 500 cases are still reported each week.

At a press conference at Wetheringsett Manor, Suffolk, the headquarters of her employer, SIM (Serving In Mission in the UK), Mrs Writebol said: "The one thing is that we just really desire to continue to raise the level of awareness of what is happening in West Africa."

Her husband, David, also a missionary, with whom she arrived in Liberia in August last year, said that her diagnosis had "helped us as we have served our friends and neighbours in Liberia. It's helped us to identify with their plight and reach out to them, and to try to help others to engage in relieving suffering and proclaiming the gospel and giving hope." The couple are "willing and ready to go back to Liberia when the time is right".

SIM has worked in Liberia since 1954, when it established a radio station. In the 1960s, it began to build a hospital. The chapel was converted into a six-bed treatment centre when the scale of the oubreak of the virus became clear. It quickly proved inadequate, and the campus now houses the largest treatment centre in Liberia, with a 220-bed Médecins Sans Frontières unit.

At the start of the outbreak in March, Mr Writebol was working as a technical-services manager, while Mrs Writebol was the personnel coordinator, working part-time in the hospital. She still doesn't know how she contracted the disease: it was understood that she was working in a low-risk capacity.

After her diagnosis, she received the experimental drug ZMapp, before being evacuated to Georgia. There has been anger in Liberia that the drug was not made available to the indigenous population, but this month the World Health Organization reported that none of the 120 potential treatments under assessment, including ZMapp, had been proved to work.

Mrs Writebol described the effect of being treated in isolation. "It was a little strange to see David in the PPE [personal protective equipment] outfit," she said on Tuesday. "For a while, he was able to come in and at least lay a hand on my shoulder and let me know he was there, but after a while it was just not possible because of safety. But he would come to the bedroom window and talk to me."

Will Elphick, SIM's diector in Liberia, suggested that her diagnosis had been providential. "When the epidemic started, the response was slow. The international response really was not there at that time. I think - providentially, you might say - when Nancy and Dr Kent Bradley got sick with Ebola, they were evacuated to the States, and that brought the Ebola crisis to the attention of the international community."

He described a "devastated" medical infrastructure in Liberia. At least 96 health workers there have died. The SIM hospital seeks to meet many other needs of the population, including malaria treatment and maternity services. He urged UK congregations to pray, give, and "consider whether there are medical people who can go and serve".

The UN goal of having 70 per cent of patients in treatment and 70 per cent of the dead safely buried by 1 December would not be "fully met", it reported on Monday.

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