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What It's Like on the Front Lines of the Ebola Fight in West Africa

USAID Administrator Raj Shah shares what it was like to see the courageous health care workers who are fighting the Ebola outbreak in action.

The very first thing you do when you arrive in Liberia is wash your hands in chlorine.

As I learned on my recent visit to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the simple acts of hand-washing and bumping elbows -- instead of shaking hands -- quickly begin to feel normal. As the Ebola epidemic overwhelms communities and threatens livelihoods in West Africa, this change in behavior is saving lives.

Today, the U.S. is helping lead a global coalition to fight Ebola with a clear strategy and data-driven approach. During my visit, I met courageous humanitarians, health workers, and community leaders who are helping turn the tide against Ebola. In fact, there are currently over 950 U.S. Government personnel on the ground in the region, and I could not be more proud of them. 

USAID Raj Shah Talking To DART

USAID Administrator Raj Shah meets with DART, CDC, and DoD about the Ebola response in Liberia. October 14, 2014. (by Morgana Wingard)


In Liberia, we are helping to build as many as 26 Ebola treatment units, as well as community care centers to provide communities with another level of care and isolation. In Monrovia, I visited one of the largest Ebola treatment units, which will soon open on the site of the Old Ministry of Defense and provide 300 beds.

Administrator Shah visits Ebola treatment unit under construction in Monrovia

USAID Administrator Raj Shah, U.S. Ambassador Deborah R. Malac, and Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, visit an Ebola treatment unit under construction on the grounds of the former Ministry of Defense building. October 14, 2014. (by Morgana Wingard)

We’re also supporting 65 safe burial teams that are working in every county across Liberia to safely and respectfully dispose of bodies. On my trip, I met local workers on these burial teams who endure the stigma of the virus to bury loved ones and reduce the risk of transmission.

On our way to the airport in Monrovia, we visited the 25-bed critical care U.S. hospital for Ebola health care workers. It is an impressive feat of engineering. Teams from the U.S. Public Health Service and the U.S. military have worked closely with colleagues on the ground to ensure they are learning and applying best practices in treatment and prevention.

First look at the 25-bed critical care hospital

Rear Admiral (RADM) Scott Giberson, Acting U.S. Deputy Surgeon General and Commander of US PHS Commissioned Corps Ebola Response, gives USAID Administrator Raj Shah a tour of the new 25-bed critical care hospital for all health workers on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. October 15, 2014. (by Morgana Wingard)


Time and again, we’ve seen the value of innovation in crisis response. In Sierra Leone, I attended an abbreviated training session for Ebola health care workers on how to safely put on and take off personal protective equipment (PPE). Through Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development, we are calling on the world’s brightest minds to invent better tools to tackle this disease -- including improved designs for PPE.

Workshop to Design and Prototype Personal Protective Equipment

Experts participate in a Workshop to Design and Prototype Personal Protective Equipment hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and USAID. October 10, 2014.

In Guinea, we visited the Donka Ebola treatment center, which has provided care to 220 people with Ebola since opening in March 2014. I had the opportunity to speak with two Ebola survivors who are now health care workers themselves. Their commitment was humbling, and I left even more in awe of their bravery.

Every Ebola outbreak in history has been stopped, and this one will be too. But it will continue to require great ingenuity, speed, cooperation, and -- most importantly -- courageous men and women serving on the frontlines. 

Workers have long days at the Ebola treatment unit

The Bong County Ebola treatment unit is run by International Medical Corps with support and funding from USAID. It is designed to accommodate up to 70 patients, but it is still scaling up after opening a few weeks ago. It has two make-shift ambulances to ferry patients. October 7, 2014. (by Morgana Wingard)


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