Josephine: An Ebola Survivor Story

She is Josephine. And her story is one of survival and heartbreaking loss in the time of Ebola.

This video premiered at the Compassion Gala 2015 in Kansas City on May 9, 2015 – a very important date in the fight against the Ebola virus – as this date Liberia was declared Ebola-free.

Sadly, this is not the case any more, as a handful of EVD case have brought Ebola back into Liberia.  Learn more and find out what’s next for Heart to Heart International in Liberia.

 

 

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.

 

 

Emergency Ebola Supplies Arrive in Liberia

Heart to Heart International’s shipment of emergency medical relief supplies to help fight the spread of Ebola has arrived in Liberia and is already being put to use by our partners the International Medical Corps.

IMC Liberia Supplies 1

International Medical Corps’ Ebola Treatment Unit in Bong County, Liberia receives donations from Heart to Heart International. Photo © International Medical Corps/Stuart J. Sia

 

The shipment originated in our Global Distribution Center in Kansas City – 18 pallets built by HHI staff and volunteers and filled with a variety of supplies like syringes, needles, sharps containers, gloves, masks, medical scrub brushes and more.  These are key items needed on the ground in the fight against the spread of Ebola and for medical care needs.
All of the items were donated by HHI’s corporate partners BD, Abbott, Johnson & Johnson and by one anonymous corporate donor.

IMC Supplies Liberia 2

Unloading a truck’s worth of supplies shipped by Heart to Heart International. Photo © International Medical Corps/Stuart J. Sia

 

IMC Supplies Liberia 3

Boxes filled with thousands of syringes provided by BD and shipped by Heart to Heart International are unloaded in Bong County, Liberia. Photo © International Medical Corps/Stuart J. Sia

 

The supplies were shipped via our global transportation partner FedEx – first by truck, then by plane, from the US to Europe and then down to Monrovia, Liberia in West Africa.

IMC Liberia Supplies 4

A member of the International Medical Corps surveys the delivery of critical medical supplies. Photo © International Medical Corps/Stuart J. Sia

 

IMC Liberia Supplies 5

Supplies are stacked in storage near IMC’s Ebola Treatment Unit. Photo © International Medical Corps/Stuart J. Sia

 

Once the supplies arrived in Liberia the International Medical Corps loaded them onto another truck and drove them several hours into the interior of Liberia to its storage facility at Cuttington University in Bong County, near its Ebola Treatment Unit.

IMC Liberia Supplies 6

HHI & the IMC working together to provide care and to meet the medical needs of the people of Liberia. Photo © International Medical Corps/Stuart J. Sia

 

So very glad that HHI can provide critical supplies to those on the front lines of the Ebola fight – and it’s great to see the efforts of so many, including donors & volunteers, making a difference where it’s needed most!

 

At the Front End of the World’s Response to Ebola

Dr. Gary Morsch, founder of Heart to Heart International, is a member of HHI’s Advance Team in West Africa.  The team has gone to Liberia, the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, to determine how HHI can respond further to stop this terrible virus.
What follows is an excerpt from Dr. Morsch’s journal, written as the team traveled in Liberia, meeting with other aid organizations and visiting Ebola treatment centers.

Gary in Liberia

Members of the HHI Advance Team, Dr. Gary Morsch (dark blue shirt) and Julie Hefner (with notebook), visit the ELWA Hospital and Ebola Treatment Center in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia, Liberia.

 

Gary Morsch, MD:  Once again, Heart to Heart International is responding to a global disaster.  But this crisis is unlike any other in modern times.  It’s Ebola, one of the world’s most dreaded diseases. Ebola means nearly certain death – a terrible, painful death, with profuse bleeding both internally and externally. That’s why it’s called Hemorrhagic Fever.  Though there have been sporadic outbreaks since the disease was first identified in 1976, this is by far, the largest outbreak of this virus in history.  Ebola, with mortality rates that can approach 90% and with no effective treatment or cure, is perhaps the most feared of all infectious diseases.

This unprecedented epidemic is located in a handful of West African countries, with Liberia taking the brunt of it.  To date, nearly 7,000 have been infected, and more than 3,000 have died.  Experts are panicking because the disease is growing exponentially, literally day by day, with fears that it could pass a point in which it would be unmanageable. The only hope is to get control of the Ebola epidemic quickly, and turn the tide before it gets out of control.

Why is HHI involved? It’s what we do. When there’s a significant crisis anywhere in the world, we ask ourselves if there is an effective and appropriate role that we can play. Our strengths are built on two pillars.

First, we have developed one of the most effective logistics systems in the world.  Because of our reputation for delivering high quality products to the most remote places on earth, pharmaceutical and medical companies donate about $100 million dollars of pharmaceuticals and supplies to HHI each year.  These are shipped in a timely manner primarily through our transportation partner, FedEx. In this current crisis, HHI has already shipped in 18 pallets of medical supplies that are being used to treat Ebola patients by our partners the International Medical Corps. More is about to leave our warehouse.

Our second strength is our network of volunteers, both medical and non-medical. This is part of why we’ve traveled to Liberia. In addition to the medicines and supplies we’re delivering, we are asking:  is there an opportunity to effectively and safely use medical volunteers in this current crisis?  We shall soon find out!

 


 

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A Clinic That Ebola Closed

The Life Care Health Clinic is just one clinic in the Liberian countryside, but its story is shared by so many across this country.  It’s a story of frustration, incapacity and loss of knowing what could possibly be done next.

Life Care Health Clinic

The clinic is located in the interestingly named Soul Clinic community of Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia, Liberia.  Our team – myself, Gary, Sue, Dan – along with James, our guide, came to learn more about how health providers are faring in this time of Ebola, and to provide some supplies we had brought with us. We had an opportunity to sit and talk with the small clinic staff and listened mostly to Mr. Tia, the clinic administrator, as he talked about his clinic, the community and what they’ve had to deal with.

This tiny clinic has a two-bed male ward, two-bed female ward, a delivery room, a pharmacy, and it serves a community of about 4,000 people.  When Ebola came into their community they were unprepared for the onslaught of patients, and woefully under-supplied and under-staffed.

They had no way to protect themselves from the Ebola virus, nor did they have a way to determine who actually has Ebola or who has something else like a bad case of malaria or cholera.  At first they tried to just turn away those that had symptoms, but it quickly became clear that it was hard to tell who was infected with Ebola and who wasn’t.  So the difficult decision was made that they simply must close the clinic.

Gary & Sue at Soul Clinic

Sue & Gary with Life Care Health Clinic staff in Liberia

 

Mr. Tia told us that out of 50 deaths in the past few months, maybe 20 to 30 are from Ebola and that perhaps the rest could have been prevented with regular medical care, but there is no way for people to get treated now.  Beyond Ebola, his biggest concern is people dying of malaria, which is so much more common than Ebola.

We listened, sitting on the porch of the clinic as the African rains fell, and thanked Mr. Tia and his staff for sharing their stories and concerns.  Before we departed, we left one of our Ready Relief Boxes full of medical supplies, thermometers, disposable stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs.

We wanted to do more.  As we drove away we hoped that soon we will.