Nonprofits Show Courage as Ebola Crisis Spreads “Out of Control”

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Sergey Uryadnikov /

July 27, 2014; NBC News

As readers know, some nonprofits face challenges that are nearly unimaginable to the rest of us. In Liberia, a second American has tested positive for the Ebola virus, a remarkably deadly disease that has taken the lives of 670 people in three countries in Africa this year.

Samaritan’s Purse announced that a second person working for the charity in Liberia has been infected with Ebola. The two staffers are Nancy Writebol, who was working at a joint Samaritan’s Purse/Serving in Mission site in Monrovia, and Kent Brantley, a doctor working as medical director for Samaritan’s Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia as part of a post-residency program.

The World Health Organization has declared the current problem of Ebola in West Africa, concentrated in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the “largest recorded outbreak of the disease.” Ebola has a fatality rate of 90 percent and, according to a report in USA Today, “is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people.” The disease causes vomiting, fever, diarrhea, internal and external bleeding. The Guardian reports that the dead bodies of Ebola victims continue to be contagious.

Already, some doctors have contracted Ebola and died as a result, including Samuel Brisbane, a consultant at the internal medicine unit at the largest hospital in Liberia, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia. Doctors Without Borders announced it is treating the top doctor in Sierra Leone, Sheik Umar Khan, who contracted the disease at a facility where three nurses died of Ebola.

These victims of the disease in faraway African countries haven’t attracted a lot of coverage in the U.S. mainstream press, but the Ebola outbreak is a significant and burgeoning health problem. “Local governments, non-profit groups like Doctors Without Borders and WHO are failing and struggle to control the outbreak.”

Recently, fears were ratcheted up about the spread of the outbreak as a passenger on an international flight to Lagos, Nigeria—Africa’s largest city—was diagnosed as having had Ebola. It would appear that the initial symptoms of Ebola might resemble other illnesses, therefore making efforts to screen passengers for Ebola difficult.

Over the years, Samaritan’s Purse has attracted a measure of controversy because of its strong faith-based orientation. Directed by evangelist Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s Purse nonetheless takes on medical and disaster relief tasks that few others would ever contemplate. One might not buy into the organization’s evangelistic religious beliefs, but there is no question that Samaritan’s Purse merits recognition and respect for its willingness to venture into crises such as the current Ebola crisis. That being said, Doctors Without Borders has declared the Ebola outbreak as “out of control.” Whether Christian evangelists like the doctors from Samaritan’s Purse or the 150 medical specialists sent into the region by the World Health Organization, these people deserve our respect and admiration.—Rick Cohen