Raphael Frankfurter, the group’s 23-year-old executive director, returned from the country last week after spending several months there. The chief Ebola physician in the country recently died from the virus, wreaking havoc within the healthcare community there, he said. His team felt that as a non-medical person, he would be safer and more useful raising funds and coordinating programs in Boston where the organization is based.
Before Frankfurter left Sierra Leone, a woman died from Ebola in a nearby hospital after attending a funeral where she likely washed and wrapped an infected corpse, as is the local custom. He was tasked with finding all 35 people she had come in contact with and convincing them to come in for testing.
“People are not always receptive to us because of the aggressive way healthcare workers have met people in the community,” he said, explaining that armed military often surround the homes of suspected Ebola cases and isolate them for weeks at a time.
“We tried a much more relaxed approach to engage them respectfully so they don’t feel as marginalized or intimidated.”
Frankfurter said with Ebola cases on the rise, the mood in Sierra Leone is tense.
“I couldn’t help feeling some of the tension myself, but rationally I was not afraid for my life. I know it is very difficult to contract Ebola unless you come into contact with a very sick person’s bodily fluids,” he said.
His family is concerned but they respect his work, he said.
“They are supportive and I appreciate the stress I am putting them through. I have reassured them many times that I have limited contact with patients,” he said.
Frankfurter said he is planning on returning to Sierra Leone as soon as it makes sense, possibly in September or October. He said a shared sense of humanity drives him to help the people of the region through this crisis.
“I'm motivated by a strong sense of ‘these people going through this in Sierra Leone could be me,’" Frankfurter said. “There is so much need. I couldn’t live with not engaging and trying to address some of these problems.”
Like many humanitarian aid groups, Wellbody Alliance has removed all but essential medical personnel from the hot zone. Their doctors remain to fight one of the deadliest Ebola outbreaks in history at great personal risk, Frankfurter noted.
Of the 1,711 Ebola cases currently reported, 145 of them are healthcare workers, according to the World Health Organization. There are 80 healthcare workers among the 932 confirmed deaths in all affected countries.