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Ebola-infected aid workers receive treatment

by
08 August 2014

By a staff reporter

SAMARITAN'S PURSE

At work: Dr Kent Brantly in a protective suit (right), at a clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, before he was taken ill 

At work: Dr Kent Brantly in a protective suit (right), at a clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, before he was taken ill 

TWO aid workers from the United States who became infected with the Ebola virus while working with the Christian agency Samaritan's Purse, in Liberia, have been flown home for treatment (News, 1 August).

The condition of the Americans, Dr Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, is said to be improving, although still serious, after they were treated with an experimental new drug.

The drug, Z-Mapp, had previously been tested only on monkeys. Dr Brantly is said by doctors treating him in Liberia to have improved dramatically within an hour of receiving the drug; Mrs Writebol needed two doses before her condition showed improvement.

Dr Brantly has also received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy whom he successfully treated for Ebola in Liberia; the boy and his family were said to have wanted to help the doctor.

Dr Brantly was flown to Atlanta in a medical evacuation plane on Saturday, and is in an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital in the city. Mrs Writebol was flown back on Tuesday.

The president of Samaritan's Purse, Franklin Graham, said: "We thank God they are alive, and now have access to the best care in the world." Dr Brantly's wife, Amber, said that he was in good spirits.

The charity is working to evacuate all but its most essential staff from West Africa to their home countries. Dr Brantly had been treating Ebola patients, and Mrs Writebol was working as a hygienist.

Mr Graham said: "Their heroic and sacrificial service . . . is a shining example of Christ's love in this crisis situation."

This latest outbreak of Ebola, which began in February, has now killed nearly 900 people. The outbreak is centred on Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and there are three cases in Lagos, Nigeria.

The Primate of Nigeria, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh, on Tuesday advised Nigerians to be wary of clerics claiming that Ebola victims could be healed spiritually. Archbishop Okoh said at a meeting in Abuja of legal officers of the Church of Nigeria that people infected with the virus should not waste time but seek medical attention. 

He said: "God can cure anything, but that is not to say people should go to the church to get the cure for Ebola because Ebola has just arrived. Nobody had encountered it in this area before.

"So, whatever claims anybody is making should be taken with a pinch of salt because we've never seen it before. [Ebola] is something devastating and time is of the essence. If you lose time, you lose lives."​

The World Council of Churches acting general secretary, Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, wrote this week to the Liberian Council of Churches expressing "deep and shared concern" to its member churches in West Africa over reports concerning "the Ebola crisis and its devastating impact on the lives of men, women and children living in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria." 

The letter called on churches and their congregations "to seek out appropriate ways of supporting our affected brothers and sisters, particularly through our Christian health services in the affected countries, who are over-stretched and lacking many of the basic necessities and resources to deal effectively and compassionately with this crisis."​

British Airways announced on Tuesday that it was temporarily suspending flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the outbreak.

The virus spreads through contact with infected blood and bodily fluids. Frequently fatal, the current outbreak is killing between 50 and 60 per cent of those affected.

Soldiers have been sent out to those areas in Sierra Leone and Liberia worst affected by the outbreak, allowing only medical personnel to move in and out.

Christian Aid is working through partner agencies and with volunteers in Sierra Leone to give advice on how to avoid contracting the disease.

Christian Aid's senior programme officer for community health and HIV, Theresa Bagrey, said: "There is a lot of panic in poor and remote communities. They have been confused by mixed messaging, and there is a lot of mistrust in the health system, so authorities don't always believe what the government is telling them. It is vital, therefore, to speak to communities through their local and faith leaders."

The World Bank has allocated £120 million in assistance to countries battling the disease. The World Health Organisation was meeting on Wednesday to decide whether to classify the outbreak as a global health emergency.

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