VIDEO: Working Together to Fight Ebola

A new video gives a glimpse into the early days of Heart to Heart International’s Operation Ebola in Liberia and showcases the importance of partnership to combat the Ebola epidemic.

For many weeks, Heart to Heart International CEO Jim Mitchum has been in Liberia overseeing the building of the organizational infrastructure needed to support the opening of an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU).   Along with Country Director Julie Hefner and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega, our team in Liberia has been putting all the pieces into place, hiring staff, and coordinating with multiple aid agencies as part of the global response to the epidemic.

Watch the video to learn the reasons why HHI has taken on the responsibility of running an ETU.  Hear from our new Liberian staff members about their desire to bring healthcare to their people and why it’s so important that HHI has come to help.  And learn how we’re working in partnership with other NGOs, like the International Medical Corps, to tackle this continuing humanitarian crisis.

 

Video by: Blake Nelson

 

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.

ebola sign & taxis

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: Support Remains Critical

At 7:30 in the morning there is pounding on the front door of our two-bedroom apartment, which doubles as our temporary Heart to Heart International – Liberia office.

James Rogers, a Liberian man who will head-up our security team at the ETU when it opens, is excited to report that he has rented another vehicle, a well traveled Toyota Land Cruiser that actually has a functioning air-conditioner, to make a four hour one-way-trip to Bong County to pick up Dr. Vega and return him to Monrovia.

In this nearly all-cash society, James is also needing more money so he can put gas in the dark green 4-wheel drive beast before he heads out. We go through a lot of cash on a weekly basis and in many cases need to pay for things in advance. The apartment, for example, is on a six month lease… all of it due up-front.

We are able to survive here right now only by the grace of our donors who have provided support in the first weeks of Operation Ebola. But even those resources are becoming stressed, and we need additional support.

After a few difficult weeks, things are starting to come together. Nurses and doctors are scheduled to join us in Liberia, and we are getting the “ground-game” organized to support the ETU. 

This is a team effort and our donors are critical members of this team. We thank you for supporting us and keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.

-Jim

Touring Tappita

The HHI team, along with USAID workers, touring the town of Tappita in Nimba County. The ETU is to be built next to the hospital seen in the photo.

 

 

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.

Dr. Vega in Bong Co, Liberia

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.

Dr. Vega w IMC program officer

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

 

A White House Invitation

Due to our involvement in the fight against Ebola in West Africa, HHI was invited to attend an event at the White House with the President of the United States on Wednesday, October 29th.

After meeting with advisors and healthcare workers involved in the Ebola fight, President Barack Obama delivered remarks in the East Room of the White House praising those Americans who are risking their lives by going to the Ebola affected areas in West Africa to stop the spread of the virus.

“We need to call them what they are, which is American heroes,” Obama said. “They deserve our gratitude and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Watch the President’s remarks:

 

Following the event, HHI joined with a handful of other NGOs to discuss the coordinated Ebola operations on the ground in Liberia, meeting with senior administration officials including HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Ebola Response Coordinator Ron Klain, and Gayle Smith, Senior Director National Security Council.

Learn more about our Operation Ebola.

 

 

From a Conversation on Ebola in Liberia: “They Are Not Anxious to Die…”

The other night I had a good conversation with a couple of my Heart to Heart International colleagues here in Liberia.  The question I asked them was, “Why are you accepting the risk of contracting a deadly disease by volunteering to come and work in Liberia on Operation Ebola?”

While there was not one simple answer, I thought you might be interested in their responses.

nurses carry body

Nurses in full protective gear carry an Ebola victim on the way to burial. Image courtesy: NBCNews

 

First of all, these are people who are drawn to work that involves medical crisis, wherever it occurs in the world. They are experienced. They’ve worked in many other countries… most of which are developing countries with limited resources and infrastructure. They knew what it would be like to work here, and they did not come with false expectations either about the challenging environment or the personal risks.

I also have to say – they are amazing people. They have a heart for the needs of others and are drawn to help when people are suffering. Their willingness to do whatever it takes to be a part of the solution never ceases to amaze me.

But this is no “normal” crisis. This is an epidemic involving a deadly and virtually untreatable virus that kills indiscriminately and in a horrific manner.  Every effort to protect yourself from contracting Ebola may not be enough.  Doesn’t that make this crisis different?

Their answers were clear. No, it only makes it more important to be here and stop this thing while we still can. Both of our team members told me they were prepared to die if that is what it takes. Don’t get me wrong. They are not anxious to die! They simply acknowledged that before coming, they assessed the personal risk of dying and decided that if it cost their life, it was a price they were willing to pay.

I can’t even comment on that level of commitment other than to compare it to what I have heard quoted by many of our troops when they go to war. And that comparison is apt since this is a combat zone of sorts. It is a region that is fighting for its entire existence and needs all the medical soldiers it can assemble.  Unfortunately there are not enough soldiers here (yet) to turn the tide, but I hope there soon will be.

-Jim

FedEx Delivers to Front Lines of Ebola Epidemic

Our long-standing relationship with FedEx is a rather special one.  For many years now, the company has helped Heart to Heart International deliver critically needed supplies around the world.
And again FedEx has come through – delivering more of our emergency Ebola supplies to front line health workers in West Africa.

FedEx Ebola Shipment1

As part of Operation Ebola – not only are we in the process of opening an Ebola Treatment Unit in Liberia to combat the spread of the virus – we continue to ship supplies to our partners in Liberia who are also on the front lines of the hot zone.

This was featured recently in a story on the FedEx blog, showcasing how their team members provide a product and supply lifeline:

“FedEx leveraged its global network of logistics expertise to move the supplies by truck and by plane from the United States to Europe as part of a special donated shipment. From there, the shipment was moved to its final destination in Liberia.

FedEx is proud to be a part of this effort to help prevent the spread of the Ebola virus and to ensure those in need receive the proper medical care.  FedEx has long-standing relationships with relief organizations around the world. Through these relationships, FedEx is able to assist in situations like this to ship large amounts of supplies to those impacted the most.”

Read about another Heart to Heart shipment FedEx transported a couple of weeks ago to our partners and friends the International Medical Corps in Liberia.

FedEx Ebola Shipment2It’s awesome to see our supplies loaded onto a FedEx cargo plane bound for those in need!

 

Tamba Hali Donates, Joins Fight Against Ebola

Recently, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali joined us at a press conference to show support for Heart to Heart International’s efforts in Liberia to combat the spread of Ebola.
Now, Hali, who grew up in Liberia, has made a sizable donation to help in the fight.

Tamba ETU 14

HHI CEO Jim Mitchum shows Tamba Hali some medical supplies bound for Liberia

 

In a cover story on Sports Illustrated’s The MMQB, Peter King writes about Tamba Hali, his childhood in Liberia and why he made such a large donation to help.

Peter King writes: Hali is typically reserved, and he’s not comfortable being a spokesman for anything. This is different, though. He understands that there are few famous Liberians in America, so he knows it’s up to him to speak up and try to get people to donate money and time to help contain Ebola, a viral disease for which there is no proven treatment.

“We can’t really wait on this,” Hali said on Wednesday before the Chiefs hit the field to practice for Sunday’s game at San Diego. “I’d be the first one to tell you that every time I do charity work, I like to do it on the hush-hush and help people quietly. But there are some matters—like this—that are way bigger than me. All I can do is lend my help in ways I know I can.

“This is not a type of disease you can contract and then there are vaccines and it goes away. People are dying within weeks and within the first month of contact. So we have to act now.”

Read Peter King’s full story on The MMQB about Hali helping in Heart to Heart International’s fight against Ebola.

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.

 

 

HHI to Open Ebola Treatment Unit in Liberia

Heart to Heart International CEO Jim Mitchum announced today (October 7, 2014) that HHI would open an Ebola Treatment Unit in Liberia to help combat the Ebola epidemic.

Mitchum_Cameras

Mitchum: “This is no small task, nor was it an easy decision. Running an ETU in Liberia will be the most complex and challenging humanitarian effort we have ever undertaken.” 

Mitchum made the announcement at a press conference held at the new HHI headquarters in Lenexa, KS in front of a bank of cameras and news reporters. “After careful deliberation, we have decided to go to Liberia where we will open and operate a 70-bed Ebola Treatment Unit,” Mitchum said.  The ETU is already under construction in Kakata, a city about 50 miles from the capital of Monrovia.  HHI will join two other NGOs who are already operating ETUs in Liberia.

Read more of HHI’s plan to open an Ebola Treatment Unit

Joining Mitchum for the announcement was Dr. Lee Norman, Chief Medical Officer of the University of Kansas Hospital who supported the plan laid out by Mitchum, and offered “we at KU Hospital have systems in place to assure you that should Heart to Heart volunteers and staff, and their worried families, need our care, we are here to help you.”

Dr. Lee Norman

 

Also on hand – Tamba Hali, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs professional football team. Hali spent much of his childhood in war torn Liberia and offered support for HHI’s plan to help the people of his home country.  “The country’s been in chaos and Heart to Heart’s coming in,” Hali said. “I don’t think there’s another organization that does what they do. We just need more effort. These are good people. We’re all human beings. We’re all good people. We all want to do the right thing.”

Tamba at presser