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Seattle Becoming Command Central in Ebola Fight

October 30, 2014

Seattle is known as a humanitarian and worldly city. As headquarters to dozens of global health organizations, Seattle has a big presence in the Ebola fight in West Africa.

Karin Huster:  It's a humanitarian catastrophe of global proportions.

Andrew Hoskins:  This is not a disaster that one organization is ever going to be able to help.  This is going to take a world global response.

Joe DiCarlo: It's going to get worse before it gets better.

Penny LeGate: The Ebola crisis in west Africa belongs to all of us.  Karen Huster, a Seattle nurse, just could not stand by.  She volunteered to go to Liberia.  She felt her skills as a former harbor view trauma nurse could be useful there.  It was a bit unsettling, though, when the pilot made this announcement after landing.

Huster:  This is the last delta flight into Monrovia, God bless you all.

LeGate:   Were you ever afraid?

Huster:  Most of the times not.

LeGate:  Karen signed up with last smile health.  Her job, to teach health care workers as well as cleaning crews and ambulance drivers how to be safe.

Huster:  We try to really do a lot of hands‑on training, putting on the equipment, taking it off, teaching how to wash hands.

LeGate:  Despite their many challenges, the resilient Liberians start each training session with music.

Huster:  I know that there are many nurses and many staff who are doing heroic jobs every day, day in and day out, despite the risks that they incur, despite the fact that they have the same protective equipment for several days on end at times.

LeGate:  Karen says the situation cannot be controlled unless there is more personal protective equipment, more medical personnel, and more treatment centers.

Huster:   As soon as the center is opened, it's 150% filled.
And you know, the couple of hours that it's open.

LeGate:  That means patients who are turned away go home and possibly infect their families and communities.  Add to all of that, daunting infrastructure problems.

Huster:   This is your equivalent of I‑5 between the capital and anywhere else.
It's the main artery.

LeGate:  Blood samples are held up for days.

Huster:  That's something that we know how to fix.  You know, we have portable labs, we have these things.  So why is it that they are not there? 

LeGate:  And it's clear why patients often die in transport.   Is it enough what we're doing here?

Huster:   It's not enough.  Not yet.

Hoskins:   Many people are out of jobs, the school system is closed down, a lot of the health system is not functioning.  So every area of life is affected by the crisis.  The mood on the ground is, you know, the local government is very discouraged.  The people in general just feel like that, like you said what next.

LeGate:  Medical teams international began serving in Liberia back in 2003, a country ravaged by civil war and poverty.  Liberia accounts for more than half of the Ebola deaths.

Hoskins:  MTI has really taken a leadership role in what we call infection prevention control

DiCarlo:  Community mobilization, community education about Ebola, education within the home.
These are the areas that are going to be effective in stemming the tide of Ebola.  But it's going to take some time.

Mattia Dimoh:  We are trying to do the very best that we can in our organization, it's a very difficult situation.

LeGate:  For 20 years,  World Vision has been doing development work inside of Sierra Leone.
Ebola stopped all that.

Dimoh:  It's been a huge disruption to the normal lives of people and businesses.

LeGate: World Vision is funneling in large shipments of desperately needed medical supplies.  And they're also breaking through tremendous fear and suspicion with interfaith messaging.  Muslim imams speak in churches, while Christian pastors preach in the mosques.

Dimoh:  Amazing to see pastors talking to the brothers and sisters in the Muslim faith in the mosques.  And imams and Christian publications.

LeGate:  World Vision is also struggling to change some deep seated cultural practices, which could now be fatal.

Dimoh:  Generally, I pass on a handshake, a tap on the back, a hug, this is very common with us.  And one of the things that needs to change is stopping those.

LeGate:   That includes how families handle deceased loved ones.  A body is full of virus.

Dimoh:  We pay a lot of respect to our dead, beloved relatives.  And what Ebola says is that you don't touch dead bodies.  We wash dead bodies and dress them before burial.

LeGate:   The world looks to Seattle when things get bad.  Whether we respond through a network of global health organizations, or through powerful individuals, our city will always have a presence in some of the planet's neediest places.

Dimoh:  The fight against Ebola is not a west Africa one, it’s not a Sierra Leone one.  That every other member of this global village is just one plane flight away from Ebola.

Huster:   I want to go back.

LeGate:  Big job.

Huster:   Yeah.  But it will take a village.

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