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PBS NewsHour

Doctors Without Borders: Ebola efforts need more people in the field


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: the challenge of containing the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Jeffrey Brown has that.

JEFFREY BROWN: The World Health Organization today said the epidemic’s official death toll now tops 1,200, amid growing concern that local resources of all kinds are being strained to the limit.

Over the weekend, the aid group Doctors Without Borders opened its largest facility yet for treating Ebola victims, near the Liberian capital of Monrovia.

The president of Doctors Without Borders, Dr. Joanne Liu, just returned from the region last week. I spoke with her earlier today from the New York Times newsroom.

Dr. Liu, thank you for joining us.

Let me ask you about the new treatment center what you are and are not able to do on the ground right now. What kind of treatment are people actually getting?

DR. JOANNE LIU, President, Doctors Without Borders: Well, in our Ebola medical center, what we offer is treatment in terms of support treatment to patients who are infected.

So the way it works in our center, we have 120 beds. We have an area of suspected case, probable case and confirmed case. And what we do for patients who are confirmed is we ensure that they are well-hydrated. We give them antibody if they have infections. And we’re making sure that they have as well some painkillers.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s been a continuing problem of persuading people to seek treatment amid so much fear and doubt about the disease itself, even to the point of a riot to shut down one clinic. How dangerous is this and how is it being addressed?

DR. JOANNE LIU: Well, this is something that we have been facing since the beginning. And this is a normal, I would say, human reaction.

Fear has been a constant, I will say, challenge, because if people do not understand what is Ebola, what are the sign of it, and what can we do for it, they will continue to have some sort of behavior that seems to be rational from a distance.

But the reality is what we need to do now is to increase the health promotion and the understanding about what is Ebola.

JEFFREY BROWN: How hard is it to reach people, and how exactly are you and others doing that?

DR. JOANNE LIU: Well, I think it’s a challenge, for sure.

And right now, we need to mobilize more people to do it. And it needs to happen at the central level. I think we should have a standardized message in terms of what is Ebola, how to prevent it, make sure that we are implementing the universal precaution everywhere. And this needs to happen at all levels, centrally and the — centrally in the country.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, there are reports that the outbreak is having a dangerous impact on the larger health system in these countries. Are you seeing that?


This is what I call the emergency within the emergency, so the Ebola and the consequences of Ebola. And one of the things we have been facing is the collapse of the health care system. Right now, most of the health care facilities are being closed in Monrovia.

And we’re facing the very distressing and — event of the fact that patients don’t have access to basic health care. We saw six pregnant women not being able to deliver over the last week and lost their babies. We saw children with malaria not able to find treatment for their malaria

JEFFREY BROWN: And they’re just coming into the height of the malaria season, right?

DR. JOANNE LIU: Yes. The rainy season has just started.

And this is why I am bringing it up. So, this is why, today, there needs to be increased capacity in the field to respond to Ebola in terms of health promotion, surveillance, contact tracing, safe burial, and treatment. But as well we need to bring some capacity to restore some basic health care access to the general population.

JEFFREY BROWN: Several days ago, your organization put out a release saying the response to the epidemic remains — quote — “dangerously inadequate.”

There have been at least some positive signs in recent days and hopes of perhaps stopping a wider spread. Can you update this for us? Where are we now in terms of the overall response?

DR. JOANNE LIU: Well, it’s difficult to say, because I think there’s more capacity — or promises of capacity that is going to be sent.

And the thing is, as far as I’m concerned, until it translates into concrete action in the field, I will wait to comment on this. But I think people are more mobilized. But we need to get people with hands-on in the field who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work, not being behind computer.

We need operational people. They are going to go from house to house to explain what is Ebola. They’re going to go from house to house to go find out where are the contact tracing. That’s what we need. We need people in the field who’s going to do the legwork.

JEFFREY BROWN: And is that effort coordinated well enough between groups like yours and respective the governments and the international community? Because there have been some worries about that.

DR. JOANNE LIU: Well, right now, there is some — they call task force, but the reality, there is not that many players in the field.

It’s not like after a natural disaster, where we have basically the full international community coming and giving a hand. Right now, it’s only a few people who have a response to the call. But the reality, of course we need to be coordinated. And this needs to happen centrally with the government. And I think the WHO needs to step up to the plate to do its job.

JEFFREY BROWN: There are new numbers out today about death toll topping 1,200. There are also though concerns that the actual numbers are vastly underreported.

Does that worry you?

DR. JOANNE LIU: Well, we have some concern about the figures, because the reality, we are not able to do the data collection everywhere in the country, if we take, for example, Liberia.

So, we think it might be underestimated. We hear a lot about some death in the communities, but this has not been checked. And we don’t have the capacity today to go and check to find out if they were deaths secondary to Ebola.

JEFFREY BROWN: Dr. Joanne Liu of Doctors Without Borders, thank you so much.

DR. JOANNE LIU: Thank you very much.

The post Doctors Without Borders: Ebola efforts need more people in the field appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

As Ebola fatalities hit 1,200, some victims on ZMapp show signs of recovery

Local residents gather around a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on August 19, 2014 in
         Monrovia, Liberia. The boy was one of the patients that was pulled out of a holding center for suspected Ebola patients when
         the facility was overrun by a mob on Saturday. A local clinic Tuesday refused to treat the boy, according to residents, because
         of the danger of infection, although the boy was never tested for Ebola. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Local residents gather around a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on August 19, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. The boy was one of the patients that was pulled out of a holding center for suspected Ebola patients when the facility was overrun by a mob on Saturday. A local clinic Tuesday refused to treat the boy, according to residents, because of the danger of infection, although the boy was never tested for Ebola. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The world’s worst outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has now claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. While the disease has carved a destructive path through several West African nations, Liberia recorded the highest number of new deaths: a total of 53 between Aug. 14-16.

Amid the overwhelming death toll, the Liberian government shared promising news: three of the country’s health workers being treated with experimental drug ZMapp have shown signs of improvement.

Moreover, Nancy Writebol — one of the two Americans being treated for the virus — was also improving, according to her husband David Writebol.

“I have had the great joy to be able to look through the isolation room glass and see my beautiful wife again,” Mr. Writebol said in a statement. “She was standing with her radiant smile, happy beyond words. She is continuing to slowly gain strength, eager for the day when the barriers separating us are set aside and we can simply hold each other.”

Despite these reassuring cases, medical experts warn that the drug has never been tested in humans and has yet to be proven effective. Even if it were, the drug’s manufacturer Mapp Biopharmaceuticals has said that its already limited supplies are currently exhausted and more won’t be available for months.

Experts still say that the best way to prevent the virus from spreading is to identify and isolate infected individuals.

Liberia is attempting to do just that. Their efforts were thwarted on Saturday when residents in the country’s capital attacked a center where people were being monitored for Ebola, causing possibly infected individuals to flee. But authorities announced Tuesday that all patients still missing had been found and moved to a hospital, where they are being screened and treated.

For more updates on the Ebola epidemic and what’s being done to help, tune into the PBS NewsHour tonight to watch our interview with Dr. Joanne Liu, International President for Doctors Without Borders.

The post As Ebola fatalities hit 1,200, some victims on ZMapp show signs of recovery appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Photographer documents effects of Ebola on daily life in Liberia

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

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JEFFREY BROWN: I spoke to John Moore, a photographer with Getty Images, a short time ago. He witnessed the attack on the quarantine center and has been documenting the outbreak in Monrovia.

John Moore, thanks for joining us.

First, tell us more about the event. Who was involved and why did they seem to be doing it?

JOHN MOORE, Getty Images: Well, it was an angry crowd who had just driven away a burial team who had come to claim several bodies that were suspected of — people suspected of dying of Ebola.

And the crowd drove away the burial teams and the police and then marched on the isolation ward, the holding center for Ebola patients. They pushed through the doors and told people that they really didn’t have Ebola after all, that they were sick of other causes, and that it was safe to come out.

There’s a lot of people who deny the existence of Ebola here. They think that it’s a scheme, a hoax, a plot by the government to bring in international money. And they pulled these people out of the ward. And then I left the scene because it was getting difficult.

And afterwards this crowd looted the facility, taking soiled mattresses and contaminated medical equipment, and I assume spreading the disease much more in their community.

JEFFREY BROWN: These are patients under observation, not known to have Ebola yet. What about the center itself?  What are the conditions?  How well or poorly supplied is it?

JOHN MOORE: The conditions were poor and the place was very poorly supplied.

It was run by the Liberian Ministry of Health. It was a small center. It was actually a primary school that had been closed because of the epidemic, a school built by USAID funds. And they had no medicine there.

Now, we know Ebola is not curable. However, you can treat the symptoms. And they had no aspirin to reduce the fever of these patients. All they gave them was food and water, and so the conditions were quite bad.

JEFFREY BROWN: You’re describing one violent incident. Can you tell how widespread the anger and fear are in Monrovia now?  Is it a general sense, or is the government actually reaching most people with a call for calm?

JOHN MOORE: The government is trying.

And the international community — I was just with UNICEF today as they were canvassing another area of town, trying to explain to people how to prevent the disease. I wouldn’t say there’s general panic. I would expect there to be more, quite frankly. People are concerned, but they’re concerned about lots of things. There’s lots of reasons that people get sick in this country.

JEFFREY BROWN: You have also been documenting burials and other parts of cultural life affected by what is happening.

Give us an example of how everyday life is affected and in some cases makes it harder, perhaps, to address the disease.

JOHN MOORE: Well, everyday life is affected, in that the schools and the hospitals and clinics are mostly all closed.

And if you are sick from some other disease, or if you are having a baby, or if you are doing the things we do as humans, you sometimes need medical attention. And without these facilities open, people are sick and dying of things that they shouldn’t be sick and dying of.

And so the disease is affecting the health system in other ways, the health system that has really collapsed.

JEFFREY BROWN: And looking at the photographs you’re able to take, and how close to the situation you are, what precautions do you yourself take?

JOHN MOORE: I came to Liberia with a full set of what they call PPE, which is personal protective equipment, which is anti-contamination clothing. And I came with many sets of coveralls, gloves, goggles, boot covers, all sorts of things, wipes, and lots of sanitizer, things to keep me healthy.

And all these things are one-time use. They get disposed of after I go into an infected area. And I dress with teams who are going in to collect bodies. And I undress all these items with them, so they are spraying me with disinfectant the whole time. I’m doing my best to stay safe.

JEFFREY BROWN: John Moore, do take care, and thank you again for joining us.

JOHN MOORE: Thank you.

The post Photographer documents effects of Ebola on daily life in Liberia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

After one quarantine center is attacked in Liberia, another large Ebola medical facility opens


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the widening effects of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa continue to spread.

Jeffrey Brown has our update.

JEFFREY BROWN: There was no sign of Ebola panic this weekend in downtown Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

But in a slum on Saturday night, angry residents stormed a quarantine center, stealing blood-stained sheets and spiriting away patients. Some charged those sent to the site had received little care. Others branded the Ebola outbreak a hoax. As of today, 17 patients were still missing, amid fears the attack will only spread the disease.

Ebola has now appeared in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria, in the worst outbreak on record. It’s killed at least 1,145 people.

Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, has appealed for more international help.

PRESIDENT ERNEST BAIN KOROMA, Sierra Leone: This is a call we are now making to the world, because we need treatment centers. And in treatment centers, we need clinicians that require specialized training. We don’t have that.

JEFFREY BROWN: The effects of the crisis in West Africa have rippled across the continent. The government of Kenya in East Africa closed its borders today to travelers from the affected countries. But efforts to fight the outbreak are also gaining momentum. On Sunday, Doctors Without Borders opened a 120-bed treatment site in Monrovia. It’s the largest such center in history.

And in this country, there’s word that two American patients being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta are improving.

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