A Liberian doctor has died and two American aid workers are ill as West Africa’s Ebola outbreak worsens.
Dr. Samuel Brisbane, a top Liberian health official, treated patients at the country's largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia. He died Saturday at Monrovia’s Eternal Love Winning Africa hospital and Ebola treatment center.
The hospital compound, run by Christian aid groups, is where two American Christians also are battling for their lives. Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, was in Liberia helping North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse respond to the outbreak when he fell ill.
Ken Isaacs, a Samaritan’s Purse vice president, identified the second American, Nancy Writebol, as a hygienist with Serving in Mission, which runs the larger hospital where Samaritan's Purse has its Ebola center.
Isaacs said both Americans are stable, but Writebol’s condition is serious. “It’s been a shock to everyone on our team to have two of our players get pounded with the disease,” he said, adding that health ministries in those poor nations are challenged to respond. “Our team is frankly getting tired.”
The highly contagious virus, spread by contact with bodily fluids, is one of the most deadly in the world. As many as 672 have died in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone since the largest outbreak on record began this year. There is no known cure, which begins with symptoms including fever and sore throat and escalates to vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding. When detected early, Samaritan’s Purse says fatality rates can decrease from 90 percent to 30 or 40 percent.
Brantly’s wife and children had been living with him in Liberia but flew home to the United States about a week ago, before the doctor started showing any signs of illness, Samaritan’s Purse spokeswoman Melissa Strickland said. The family was on a two-year Samaritan’s Purse fellowship following his residency in family medicine in Fort Worth, Texas.
John Munro, pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C., where the Writebols are members, told his congregation the news Sunday. Writebol's husband David had told a church elder via Skype Saturday that he couldn’t even enter his wife’s room. “He’s devastated,” Munro told the Charlotte Observer. “She’s not doing well. It’s grim news.”
The Writebols have been in Liberia since 2013 after 14 years in Zambia and Ecuador. Church members had offered to pay to fly the Writebols back to the United States because of the Ebola outbreak. “But they said no. They believe the Lord sent them there,” Munro said.Writebol helped with staff decontamination and its strict protocols, Strickland told the Observer. “They did not take chances, I assure you,” he said.
In a Samaritan’s Purse press release issued earlier this year, Brantly said health workers face increased risk. “In past Ebola outbreaks, many of the casualties have been healthcare workers who contracted the disease through their work,” Brantly said. A Ugandan doctor in Liberia died earlier this month, and a doctor in Sierra Leone is currently ill.
All of West Africa is now on alert after an infected Liberian official flew to Nigeria and died at a Lagos hospital. That the man could board an international flight despite being ill raised fears that the disease could spread by air. An outbreak in Lagos, a megacity of 21 million people in cramped quarters, would be even harder to contain. The virus’ incubation period can last up to 21 days.
Liberia's president late Sunday restricted public gatherings, quarantined communities heavily affected, and closed all land border crossings except for some with Guinea and Sierra Leone.