Hit Hard By Ebola, Liberia Now Has A Third Treatment Center
The Ebola outbreak has been spreading through Liberia with alarming speed — more than 780 cases, with 100 identified over a recent two-day period. Yet for weeks there have been only two places in the country where patients could get medical care, one in the country's rural north and one in the capital, Monrovia.
Doctors Without Borders has now opened a third facility.
The new center sits in the middle of a vast, muddy field on the outskirts of Monrovia. Orange mesh fencing surrounds long white tents. The facility has only been open for an hour and already about a dozen men, women and children are waiting outside. They had arrived hours earlier, dispersed when it began raining heavily and then returned.
"I've been trying to find them for the last hour or two but thankfully they've come back and we'll screen them," says Brett Adamson, the coordinator of the center. Like everyone here, he's soaking wet. He looks over at the people in line and says there's a good possibility many of them have Ebola.
"These are patients that have been to the existing facility and [there was] no space," Adamson says. "They've essentially been turned away, and they've been waiting for us to open."
The new Doctors Without Borders facility has room for 120 patients, with plans to boost the capacity to 300 by the end of next week.
Inside one of the tents, a nurse is suiting up for the very first time. She's getting ready to see the first two patients. A group of colleagues helps her put on each protective layer with meticulous care: a yellow jumpsuit, gloves, a thick plastic apron, duct-tape to close off her sleeves, goggles. A man warns her to put on the mask before she pulls on a larger head covering.
In the center's office area, Lindis Hurum, the Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator for Monrovia, says she's worried.
"We are setting up this large unit," she explains, "but unfortunately I fear that will not be enough."
Hurum says Liberia is still in dire need of not only more beds for patients but all manner of supplies: protective gloves, disinfectant — and body bags.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Ebola outbreak continues to spread through West Africa with alarming speed. To date, there have been more than 2,000 cases reported and over 1,100 deaths. In Liberia, there have been only two places where people infected with the virus could get medical care - one in the country's rural north, and one in the capital, Monrovia. Yesterday the group Doctors Without Borders opened a third facility. NPR's Nurith Aizenman was there as the first patients arrived.
NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: The new center sits in the middle of a vast, muddy field on the outskirts of Monrovia. Long, white tents are surrounded by orange mesh fencing. It's only been open for an hour, and there's already about a dozen men, women and children waiting outside. They first arrived hours ago, but they left when it began raining heavily. They've only just returned.
BRETT ADAMSON: I've been trying to find them for the last hour or two. But thankfully they've come back, and we'll screen them.
AIZENMAN: Brett Adamson, the coordinator of the center, stands at the edge of the field. Like everyone here, he's soaking wet. He looks over at the waiting crowd, and he says there's a good possibility many of them have Ebola.
ADAMSON: These are patients that have been trying to get into the existing facility, and they've had no space. They've essentially been turned away, and they've been waiting for us to be open.
AIZENMAN: Health workers say lots of people have been unable to get help. While the outbreak started in neighboring Guinea and then spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia has now emerged as the most challenging hotspot. Already, there are more than 780 cases here with more than 100 identified over just a recent two-day period. And many of these people are in the country's densely packed capital, Monrovia. Armand Sprecher waits in line to have his white rubber boots sprayed with disinfecting solution before entering the new center. He's in charge of tracking the epidemic's spread in Liberia for Doctors Without Borders.
ARMAND SPRECHER: It is not unlikely that the size of the outbreak, only here in Monrovia, may exceed by a couple times over the biggest outbreak up until this point
AIZENMAN: Yet for weeks there have been only two places in the whole country and only one in Monrovia where doctors were caring for patients with Ebola. The government has tried to set up some makeshift holding facilities where people with symptoms could, in theory, be isolated. But no care has been offered there. Even basics like aspirin to bring down a fever are in short supply. On Saturday, an angry mob stormed one of those facilities and carried sick people back into the community, putting still more people at risk. Health workers like Sprecher say they're preparing for a surge of new infections.
SPRECHER: Number one question right now is how many cases we're going to have in the weeks to come.
AIZENMAN: The new Doctors Without Borders facility has room for 120 patients, and they plan to boost that to 300 by the end of next week. Still, for now they can only actually look after about 50 people here. The staff are mostly local workers who've just been trained on how to keep themselves safe. Doctors Without borders wants to proceed slowly and cautiously.
Inside one of the tents, a nurse is suiting up for the very first time. She's getting ready to see the first two patients. A group of colleagues helps her put on each layer with meticulous care. There's a yellow jumpsuit, gloves, a thick plastic apron, duct tape to close off her sleeve, goggles.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
AIZENMAN: No, wear the mask, they say, warning her she needs to put it on before she pulls on a larger head covering. Back in the center's office area, the Lindis Hurum, the Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator for Monrovia, says she's worried.
LINDIS HURUM: We are setting up this large unit, but unfortunately I fear that that will not be enough.
AIZENMAN: Hurum says Liberia is also still in dire need of all manner of supplies - protective gloves, disinfectant, and she says, body bags. Nurith Aizenman, NPR News, Monrovia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.