With the roar of airplanes overhead departing Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Dr. Kent Brantly made a plea Wednesday for more U.S. aid to West African countries fighting the Ebola epidemic.
“Our sense of compassion needs to overcome our fear,” said Brantly, 33, one of the first Americans to contract the disease while working with Ebola patients in Liberia in July. “Until we go to West Africa and put out this fire, the whole world is going to be at risk.”
Brantly joined Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, to announce the Boone-based charity’s second shipment of supplies to help stop the spread of Ebola in Liberia.
As the two men spoke, a 747 cargo jet behind them was being loaded with 90 tons of equipment, including full-body suits, gloves, masks and boots to protect health care workers. Samaritan’s Purse, which sponsored Brantly’s work, had sent a 100-ton shipment to Liberia in early October. The charity still has more than 350 staffers in the country and is building community care centers in rural areas there.
Brantly, who recovered from Ebola after receiving treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, said there has been “a slight slowdown of cases” in Liberia recently. “But that is no reason for us to slow down in our efforts,” he said. “This fight is far from over. We must continue to have compassion on our neighbors who are suffering greatly.”
Brantly has made public appearances and testified before Congress about the Ebola epidemic since Aug. 21, when he was released from Emory. He and fellow missionary Nancy Writebol of Charlotte were both airlifted to Emory from Liberia after contracting Ebola while working at a hospital in Monrovia.
Since then, part of Brantly’s mission has been to “dispel the fear around Ebola.” Late last month, he said he tried to reassure a New York taxi driver on the same day Dr. Craig Spencer was hospitalized with Ebola infection at Bellevue Hospital. Spencer, who had worked for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea, caused a panic when New Yorkers realized he had ridden the subway and visited multiple restaurants and entertainment venues in Manhattan before he became ill.
Brantly said he told the cab driver he had “zero risk of getting Ebola” if he didn’t know Spencer and hadn’t touched him. “You can’t get it unless you’re having intimate contact with someone who has Ebola,” Brantly said.
Initial decisions by New York and New Jersey governors to quarantine health care workers who return to the United States from West Africa could deter others from volunteering to help, Brantly said. Returning health care workers should monitor themselves for symptoms for three weeks, but he said they shouldn’t be treated “like prisoners when they return from this sacrificial work.”
Last summer, Graham had criticized the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for not having adequate protocols in place for U.S. health care workers who might come in contact with Ebola patients. After two nurses in Texas contracted Ebola from a patient, the CDC revised those guidelines, making them stricter and more like those followed by Doctors Without Borders in West Africa.
“Early on, no question, they were not up to speed on this,” Graham said. “The CDC’s guidelines were so vague. And that’s how those nurses got infected down in Dallas. They weren’t being lax. They were just following the guidelines, and the guidelines weren’t sufficient. And it almost killed them.”