An Unexpected Window into the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Tonight, Ray and I were invited to attend a BBQ in Manhattan Beach hosted by Dr. Katheryn Challoner, who is a member of the attending staff for Emergency Medicine at LA County + USC Hospital as well as on the faculty of USC’s Keck School of Medicine. She is also an active member of St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Hollywood and often volunteers at the “Breakfast Club,” our bi-monthly homeless feed program. In addition, Katherine does much international  work related to Emergency Medicine and this brings us to the reason we were invited to her home this evening. Her friend and former medical student, Dr. Benedict Kolee, had just arrived from Liberia and was there to speak to other physicians who were at the BBQ about the recent Ebola breakout in West Africa. Why were we invited? Because we had met Dr. Kolee before when he had come with Kathryn to the Breakfast Club on several occasions and we saw them just this morning when they came to volunteer to help feed the homeless.

Dr. Kolee explained to the group of doctors present (along with Ray and me) about the current Ebola situation in Liberia. This information was particularly pertinent since two of the medical residents present had been planning a trip to Liberia with Kathryn to present a training seminar to physicians there. However, Dr. Kolee explained that because there is a considerable lack of basic safety supplies such as gloves and goggles for medical personnel in Liberia currently, he did not feel that it was prudent for these doctors to come at this time.

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola has killed over 600 people and infected 888 in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone since February, 2014, and a growing number of health workers have died. Redemption Hospital in Monrovia was virtually abandoned because of the outbreak and has only recently reopened with a small staff of health workers. Dr. Kolee emphasized that the spread of the disease can be prevented in hospitals through the strict use of a disease control protocol, but supplies, education and training are critical. He is currently working with Johns Hopkins in an effort to secure more funds to meet the current need of what WHO is calling, “the largest outbreak of Ebola since it was discovered in 1976.”

Currently, there is no cure for Ebola, which is a form of hemorrhagic fever, and there is a ninety per cent death rate for those who are infected with the disease. However, for those who do not die over a 21-day incubation period, a full recovery is expected with no further evidence of the disease. The disease is not easily contracted since it requires fluid exchange. It is not an airborne virus. However, because of crowded conditions in the cities and also cultural practices for funerals that include the touching of the deceased, public officials are encouraging the population to refrain from coming in contact with people who currently have the disease or any who have recently died from it.

Dr. Kolee said that this is a grave situation, but that with funding for education and supplies, the medical community can implement strategies to protect the general populace as well as health workers. On a personal note, he said that he is very careful when working with patients and that the hospital where he works is one of the few that has a disease control protocol firmly in place. Because so few hospitals have the supplies and equipment necessary, the Liberian government has declared the Ebola outbreak a national emergency.

Of course, as a neutral party listening to this information, it was almost impossible not to worry about Dr. Kolee’s safety. Exposure to sick patients even with strict precautions seems risky. However, when it was suggested that he should perhaps stay in the United States in order to remain safe, Dr. Kolee shook his head. “Oh, no. I must go back.”

Below is a link to a CNN newscast with Christiane Amanpour related to the Ebola outbreak. We watched this evening, as well.

Hats off to Dr. Kolee and his efforts.  We wish him well and also hope that this current outbreak will be quickly stemmed.  Godspeed.

Dr. Benedict Kolee

 

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