US Senator Visits HHI’s Ebola Treatment Center

U.S. Senator Chris Coons is the first member of Congress to travel to Liberia since the start of the Ebola outbreak.  During his four day trip, he visited with deployed American troops, met with Liberian political leaders and explored Heart to Heart International’s new Ebola Treatment Unit in the town of Tappita.

Senator Coons tours ETU

HHI’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega (center, in blue) escorts Senator Coons and Ambassador Deborah Malec, along with Liberian health and government officials, on a tour of the Tappita ETU.

 

Senator Coons of Delaware currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.  He said his trip to Liberia was partly to remind Americans that the Ebola epidemic is far from over, to make a holiday visit with the troops and to provide some oversight of the funds committed to fighting Ebola.

Coons: “There are more than 2,000 U.S. troops currently serving on the front lines of our fight against Ebola, building hospitals and field clinics, but no Member of Congress has visited them yet. I think it’s important to show them our support, especially during the holiday season while they’re away from their loved ones. Congress also just approved more than $2.5 billion in emergency funding to fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and to ensure the virus does not overrun the region again. It’s Congress’ job to perform responsible oversight of that investment.”

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Accompanying the senator on the tour of HHI’s Ebola Treatment Unit was US Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac and Major General Gary Volesky, commander of the 101st Airborne and overall commander of US troops in Liberia.  Maj. Gen. Volesky had been to the Tappita site previously, as construction for the ETU was managed by the 36th Engineer Brigade, from Fort Hood, Texas.

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As the Huffington Post reported, Coons said he took plenty of precautions to avoid contracting the disease. “Every place I’ve gone I’m washing my hands with chlorine. Instead of handshakes we’re doing the ‘elboa,'” he said, referring to bumping elbows.  Though the trip was considered a ‘low-risk’ visit the senator will follow protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control, his health will be monitored and his temperature taken every day for three weeks as a precaution.

Coons also told the Washington Post he had seen first-hand how international groups, like Heart to Heart International, along with local Liberian efforts had changed the trajectory of the epidemic in the country.

 

 

 

 

KC Chiefs’ Tamba Hali nominated for Man of the Year

The Kansas City Chiefs defensive stand-out has been nominated for the Walter Peyton Man of the Year award, in part due to his generous support of Heart to Heart International’s efforts to fight the Ebola epidemic in Hali’s native land of Liberia.

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Photo © Kansas City Chiefs

The prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award presented by Nationwide is unique among NFL honors because it is the only award that recognizes a current NFL player for outstanding community service activities as well as excellence on the field. – NFL.com

At Heart to Heart International we feel this nomination is so well deserved, because #91 stepped up in a big way.  Not only did Tamba Hali help to get the word out about our plans to open an Ebola Treatment Unit in Liberia, he made a substantial donation to the effort.  Here’s an excerpt from his nomination:

How has your nominee put the needs of members in the community ahead of their own?
With the team in the midst of its bye-week, Hali put off travel to remain in Kansas City this October. Instead of embarking to a tropical paradise, he and Heart to Heart International formally announced the construction of a 70-bed Ebola Treatment Unit. In fact, Hali was so moved by the passion of Heart to Heart International that he pledged $50,000 to the cause.

tamba hali & HHI

Hali, flanked by Dr. Lee Norman of the University of Kansas Hospital and HHI CEO Jim Mitchum (in blue jacket), after the October announcement that HHI would go to Liberia to combat the Ebola epidemic. Photo © Kansas City Chiefs

 

As reported on KCChiefs.com, the Chiefs organization nominated Hali this year for his prowess on the field, for his support of HHI and for doing so much for people in the Kansas City area.

We are very proud to have Tamba represent the Chiefs Kingdom as this year’s nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award,” Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “As a player, with his teammates and in the communities he serves, Tamba demonstrates tremendous heart. He does not seek personal recognition for his tireless hard work. He prefers action over words. So, we are delighted to see him nominated for one of the most prestigious honors in our game.”

The Man of the Year will be announced January 31st, the day before the Super Bowl.  Of course we’re pulling for Tamba! So deserving!!

 

 

Our People of the Year

They’ve come from many backgrounds, all walks of life, from the US, Liberia and other countries – all sharing the same goals of saving lives and halting the spread of the Ebola virus.

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These are our People of the Year, these are our heroes.  These doctors and nurses, logistics specialists, humanitarian aid workers, cooks, security, ambulance drivers and chlorine sprayers  – all who have given their time and talents to step into the hot zone of the Ebola epidemic with Heart to Heart International.  We couldn’t be prouder of their service with us and for humankind.

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Recently, TIME magazine chose to recognize the heroic efforts of those on the front lines of the Ebola fight, choosing the Ebola Fighters as their “Person of the Year 2014”.  They saw that the people who have chosen to fight the epidemic, that put their lives on the line each and every day to help people and to help stop this terrible disease, are truly heroic in every sense of the word.

We at Heart to Heart recognize the actions of our own Ebola Response Team members – their courageous, valiant efforts.  We know it’s difficult work.  Several have already come face to face with the terrors of the virus.  And we know that we couldn’t tackle this without them.

ERT members in PPE

Our team members are hard at work.  Our Ebola Treatment Unit nears completion.  Progress is being made.  Please continue to support this critical effort.

Donate Now & Help stop Ebola

 

Dispatch from Liberia: Life in Monrovia

Some of you have asked, “What is it like over there?”

The city of Monrovia (1.5 million people) is a hodge-podge of buildings, many of which are older and in some state of neglect.  The hot, humid weather causes mold and mildew to grow on almost any surface like a magnet attracting iron shavings.  Metal roofing is often brown with rust and the gutters sag or are non-existent.

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Taxis move along a street in front of a recently painted wall bearing information about the symptoms of Ebola in Monrovia.

 

Cars compete with loud, exhaust-spewing trucks for space along the roads and streets while brave pedestrians attempt to find safe ways to cross.  Driving here (and almost anywhere in the developing world) is a combination of “chicken” and mental calculation where inches matter much more than the no-passing stripes on the road.  Official vehicles (such as those with UN or Liberian government plates) turn on flashing lights and sirens, passing everyone while driving in the oncoming lanes.  Taxis swerve out and around cars that stop along the road, presenting many opportunities for collision. Horns honk constantly.

Downtown Monrovia

A bustling downtown street in Monrovia, capital of Liberia.

 

Life for the common man is not easy here.  Jobs are harder to come by ever since the Ebola epidemic and because some businesses closed and others have down-sized.  People scrap for whatever work they can get.  It is common to see people trying to sell packages of gum or snacks to people in cars stopped at lights.  The blind or maimed (usually from the civil war that ended a decade ago) beg for money along the streets, particularly in areas frequented by foreigners.

But the crisis has touched every level of Liberian society.  Some of the wealthy have fled the country preferring to live in Europe or the US until the crisis subsides.  Schools have closed to help stop the spread of the disease, which will only exacerbate the educational gap created during the civil war years.

Ebola signOn Fridays and Saturdays, shops are busy and streets are crowded despite Ebola.  People have learned to live with the constant threat.  Bleach-water hand washing stations line the sidewalks and are required to be used before entering any store or establishment.  Monrovians have gladly embraced this new form of disinfection.  They also understand that you have to come in contact with bodily fluids of someone with symptoms to contract the disease, and there is no longer the panic that existed a few months ago.  Ebola-prevention education for the public is going on everywhere.  It is just the new way of life in Monrovia.

Heart to Heart International is extremely busy preparing for the opening later in November of our own Ebola Treatment Unit. It will be located in a town eight hours away where we will have most of our staff based.  Right now, we are hiring Liberians for many jobs including medical workers, ambulance drivers, logistics personnel and accountants.  It is a hectic but amazing time to be here, knowing that people’s lives are at stake.

And when this Ebola outbreak is eradicated, there will be more work.  The tiny medical infrastructure of Liberia that existed before the outbreak (there were fewer than 50 Liberian doctors at the start of this epidemic for a country of over four million souls) has been gutted.  It will be necessary for other countries to help in its rebuilding rather than leave people to the mercies of treatable diseases like malaria, typhoid and HIV, not to mention the risks of childbirth and accidents.  Along with many others, we are already thinking about the post-Ebola time to come.

-Jim

Dispatch from Liberia: Waking up in Ebola Land

Morning breaks muggy and warm with broken clouds signaling that the rainy season is slowly giving way to its dry season doppelgänger. Roosters crow incessantly below my second-story apartment bedroom window, ridiculing anyone who wants a few minutes of extra sleep on a Saturday morning. Life in Monrovia, Liberia is waking up to a new day in Ebola Land.

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HHI Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega visiting the IMC Ebola Treatment Unit in Bong County, Liberia.

 

It’s an important day for us as Dr. Rene Vega, our chief medical officer, has returned from a week of Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) training with one of our NGO partners, the International Medical Corps, at their Bong county site.  Dr. Vega will be taking a week break from the ETU and working with us in our Monrovia office. He will then return to Bong to gain even more experience in preparation of the opening of our own ETU in a few short weeks in Nimba county, eight hours of rough road from here.

Suiting up in PPE in Bong

International Medical Corps workers help a colleague suit up in PPE, personal protective equipment, inside the ETU in Bong County, Liberia.

 

We are looking forward to getting Rene’s input on the design of the ETU we will be operating. Nothing beats experience when it comes to improving the way the unit will be designed and built. Little details like how patients are brought into the ETU or even the width of a patient shower stall can be helpful in preventing unnecessary exposures and risks. Doctors with many years of training in human anatomy are suddenly being asked to become experts in Ebola treatment unit layouts.

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HHI Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega (left), meets with IMC program director at ETU in Bong County, Liberia.

 

Reports of the number of patients coming to existing ETU’s in Liberia are down suggesting to some that the epidemic may be waning. That is not what the experts believe, nor even the man-on-the-street in Monrovia.  Instead, it is widely thought that people have remained in their homes when showing signs of Ebola rather than heading for an ETU. They naturally fear isolation from their loved ones and the seemingly inhuman nature of being treated by people in body suits where only the medical worker’s eyes are visible, and that through goggles. Fear is palpable.

Staying at home has terrible implications for this disease since home caregivers, almost always members of the patients’ family, usually become the next victims. And so the disease continues, as yet unconfined.  More ETU’s will be built in both the cities and the countryside as this impoverished country seeks to eradicate a virus that is causing panic and fear to spread around the world.

-Jim

 

HHI’s Ebola Treatment Unit Under Construction in Liberia

The first photos are coming in from the work site in Kakata, Liberia.  The photos are somewhat small thanks to a slow and intermittent internet connection.  But, you can see that work is progressing on our 70-bed Ebola Treatment Unit!  We expect to have it up and running in November.

Workers are busy constructing the visitor area of the new HHI Ebola Treatment Unit in Kakata, Liberia.

 

Digging Latrine Pits

Digging the latrine pits at the new Ebola Treatment Unit in Kakata, Liberia.

 

Triage ETU

The triage area of the Ebola Treatment Unit, where patients will be first checked in.