American missionary doctor Kent Brantly released a statement today thanking God for his mercy in so far sparing him from Ebola.
“I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease,” he wrote Friday in the first public statement from either of the Americans fighting for their lives in an Atlanta hospital. Brantly went on to describe the “horror” he experienced treating the sick and being sick himself.
“I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them,” he said. “I witnessed the horror firsthand, and I can still remember every face and name.”
Upon feeling symptoms July 23, Brantly immediately isolated himself while waiting for tests. “When the result was positive, I remember a deep sense of peace that was beyond all understanding,” he said. “God was reminding me of what He had taught me years ago, that He will give me everything I need to be faithful to Him.”
Brantly and fellow missionary Nancy Writebol are two of the lucky victims of the latest, and most deadly, outbreak of the virus. Samaritan’s Purse Vice President Ken Isaacs on Thursday called the international response to Ebola a “failure,” even as governments committed more money and resources to West Africa, where nearly 1,000 have died.
Today the World Health Organization declared the epidemic an international public health emergency. But with a suspected cases in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, a grave Isaacs said it’s likely too late isolate Ebola to West Africa.
“It was not until July 26, when Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were confirmed positive, that the world sat up and paid attention,” said Isaacs, one of several officials to testify before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Thursday. “We have to fight this disease, and we have to fight it now.”
The World Bank Group and Great Britain have pledged more than $200 million in emergency funding to fight the outbreak, including paying for urgently needed medical supplies, medical staff salaries, and lab networks. On Thursday, the U.S. Agency for International Development pledged tens of thousands of protective suits for healthcare workers.
Such a coordinated response is the only thing that can stem the epidemic, said WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan. Nigeria’s president declared a national state of emergency Friday over a growing cluster of cases there. “Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,” Chan said.
The current crisis is on pace to sicken more people than all other outbreaks of the disease combined. And with many dying in hiding, Isaacs said his epidemiologists think the WHO casualty estimates are probably off by more than 50 percent. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Congress that a best-case scenario to end the outbreak would take at least three to six months.
Ebola, which causes some victims to bleed from the eyes, mouth, and ears, can only be transmitted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is sick. But African families continue the practice of kissing corpses immediately after death, Isaacs said, and aid workers have been attacked trying to intervene.
In one disturbing story, Isaacs identified the Liberian-American man responsible for spreading the disease to Lagos, Nigeria, as an official who visited the ministry’s hospital with one of Liberia’s top doctors. The doctor “openly mocked the existence of Ebola” and shunned protection, he said. Both died within five days.
Several healthcare workers who treated the man in Nigeria are now sick, and Isaacs said Samaritan’s Purse epidemiologists expect an epidemic to be fully underway in that country within three weeks. At 21 million people, the city of Lagos alone equals the populations of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia combined. “No millimeter of your skin can be exposed or you will get sick and most likely die. That is sort of the reality of it,” Isaacs said.
During his testimony, Isaacs publicly thanked the U.S. government for helping evacuate Brantly and Writebol, as well as helping provide an experimental serum that many believe contributed to their improvement. But some people in other affected countries are now questioning why the medicine has not been offered to infected Africans.
Spain is expressing interest as it treats its own missionary, a 75-year-old Catholic priest and medical missionary from Liberia. Nigeria’s government also pleaded for access to the serum. But U.S. officials say the serum still hasn’t been tested on humans, and so few doses exist that it could be months before they can produce enough to conduct a test.
U.S. authorities eased safety restrictions Friday on a separate drug out of Canada. That drug has been on hold after potentially dangerous side effects emerged in test subjects. It’s still not clear when the drug will be available, and using unproven drugs has world leaders worried. “We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director general at the WHO.
Meanwhile, in Liberia and Sierra Leone, governments are using the military to enforce quarantines. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned civil liberties could be suspended as the situation worsens. Fearful citizens are leaving bodies on Monrovia’s streets. Relatives are hiding patients at home for fear that if they are brought to isolation centers and don't have Ebola, they will catch it.
Isaacs said his organization will continue to work “hand-in-glove” with doctors and governments. But the world missed its chance to provide infrastructure several months ago and help West Africa treat the disease itself, he said. Containment, now, must be the first priority.
“And the truth is,” he said, “the cat is probably already out of the bag.”