Healthcare workers from around the globe have answered the call to help their counterparts in West Africa treat desperately ill people suffering from Ebola.
Some heroes wear capes, but many more wear scrubs. The world saw a massive outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone this year. It could have been worse, if not for the people on the ground and the people at the top coordinating the appropriate responses.
The 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is the worst epidemic of Ebola the world has ever seen. The virus has a 71 percent fatality rate. The death toll has climbed to more than 7,500 people.
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The response has been global and unified. One of the strongest forces for good has been Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). MSF is also known as Doctors Without Borders. The nonprofit has sent more than 700 international staff to the affected areas. They have treated more than 7,000 patients.
One missionary clinical nurse associate, Nancy Writebol, was infected with Ebola while working in Liberia. After being successfully treated in Atlanta, she donated blood for other patients who needed life-saving blood transfusions from someone of the same blood type with antibodies to fight the virus already in their bloodstream.
Dr. Kent Brantly was another U.S. missionary who was infected and survived. He donated blood that was used to save a fellow infected missionary, a journalist, and a nurse.
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Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician and aid worker with MSF, was one of the many doctors infected. He saluted the bravery of his fellow aid workers and encouraged the American public not to lose sight of the work still to be done fighting the outbreak.
“Please join me in turning our attention back to West Africa, and ensuring that medical volunteers and other aid workers do not face stigma and threats upon their return home,” he wrote in his only public statement. “Volunteers need to be supported to help fight this outbreak at its source.”
Dr. Tom Frieden has been the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 2009. He was the face of the American response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014. There have been several reported cases of Ebola in the United States, including among American health workers who cared for a patient who arrived in the United Stares from Liberia.
Critics said that the CDC’s response was inadequate and downplayed the risk to Americans. Some called for Frieden’s resignation. Ultimately, however, the CDC has put new, more advanced protocols in place to fight this and other infectious disease outbreaks at U.S. hospitals while keeping health workers safe.
Dr. J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Washington D.C.-based Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has mixed feelings about Frieden’s handling of the Ebola epidemic.
“Frieden will remain essential to advancing U.S. national interests, at home and abroad. He like all of us will make human mistakes, and he will struggle with the deficiencies of our system,” he wrote. “What we cannot possibly afford as a country is to sacrifice him to our fears and differences.”
Frieden’s approach to problems that continue to plague the nation, including obesity, smoking-related illness, heart disease, and antibiotic resistance, is helping to shape policy changes that will continue to improve public health.
Photo of Ebola healthcare worker Dr. Joel Montgomery courtesy of CDC Globa/Creative Commons. Photo of Dr. Tom Frieden courtesy of Geoffrey Cowley/Creative Commons.