Even with the worst-ever Ebola outbreak raging in her home country, a Liberian doctor is spending weeks in the U.S. rather than flying home as planned.
Dr. Roseda Marshall, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Liberia’s A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, said that she needs to raise money and gather supplies in America because, on a daily basis, things as simple as face masks and gloves can be in short supply in Liberia.
Even before the outbreak, Elikem Tomety Archer, senior director for international partnerships and programs at the humanitarian aid group Americares, said that she saw hospitals located in the areas affected by Ebola rationing gloves so doctors only got four pairs per day, no matter how many patients.
“We’ve received requests from our partners on the ground, in Liberia and Sierra Leone that they do not have equipment that they need in the quantities to prevent disease from spreading,” said Archer. “It’s creating a fear for the health workers, who on any given day [even] before this outbreak were putting their lives at risk treating HIV or hepatitis patients” without proper safeguards.
Now, with Ebola ravaging the population, the situation may be even more dire.
“We are dealing with an invisible enemy,” said Marshall, who spent more than 20 years in the U.S. before moving back to Liberia. "You can’t see the enemy until it kills you."
The latest Ebola outbreak numbers are staggering, with 1,440 infected and 826 deaths from those infections, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia has had 468 cases and 255 deaths.
With such an emergency on its hands, the Liberian government has ordered the hospitals and a medical school temporarily closed to allow doctors to deal with infected patients.
Marshall said she’s concerned about her patients with other illnesses. She often saw at least four to five pediatric patients a day with serious dehydration and fever before the Ebola outbreak at the country’s largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia.
“People are not just dying from Ebola,” said Marshall. “Every day, you get four or five kids with malaria. What is happening to those kids now?”
Hoping to get support for her country, Marshall turned a planned visit with her daughters in the U.S. into an impromptu fundraising trip. Marshall was scheduled to fly home to Monrovia, Liberia, this Friday, but instead of getting on a plane, she will be travelling across the U.S. to medical schools and churches to help explain what is going on in Liberia and within the region's impoverished health system.
“All the hospitals are closed. People are afraid if you think you have Ebola they don’t want to deal with you,” said Marshall. “I can do more here now than [there].”
This week, she spoke at Johns Hopkins University about the need for more help and medical supplies to support doctors in the country.
Aid organizations sending in medical supplies said under-equipped doctors have been putting their health in danger by treating patients without proper safety gear.
Marshall said she also worried that the deadliest-ever Ebola outbreak could set back a generation of health workers.
According to the World Health Organization, at least 60 health workers have been killed in the outbreak and more than 100 have been infected including top Ebola doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
It’s a loss that can be incalculable in a place where there are only an estimated 50 doctors in the to treat the entire 4 million population of Liberia, according to the aid group SIM USA.
Marshall said the loss of Dr. Samuel Brisbane, the top doctor in the critical care unit and a leading doctor on Ebola, will be immensely damaging.
“It’s just too hard for us. I’m really heartbroken,” she said.
Marshall said a top emergency room doctor is infected with Ebola and she is hoping that international organizations may provide him with the same experimental serum used on an American doctor and aid worker.
Marshall, who also is president of the Liberian College of Physicians and Surgeons, which oversees medical degrees, said future generations of doctors could be affected after seeing the risks health workers have to take without proper supplies during this outbreak.
“I think that’s a strong possibility, [people] being afraid of becoming doctors and health care workers,” said Marshall.
Marshall plans on spending the next few weeks traveling across the country to raise awareness and gather supplies and is working with partners at the University of Massachusetts and other aid groups to raise funds.