Local aid group offers front-line support in Ebola fight

Hazmat suits for healthcare workers in West Africa

While Liberia and other West African countries are seven months into the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history, several Carroll County-based organizations are on the front lines of the battle to control the outbreak.

Tucked away in New Windsor is IMA World Health, an international aid organization that is working toward "health, healing and well-being for all."

IMA World Health programs focus on providing medicine and supplies, fighting disease, empowering women and strengthening health systems in developing countries. The organization has recently joined the international community in trying to control the West African Ebola outbreaks.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia began in March.

Outbreaks are also being seen in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone. Civil unrest and violence against aid workers have been reported, and the public health infrastructure in Liberia is being severely strained as a result of the outbreak.

At the end of October, the three West African countries reported approximately 13,676 cases of Ebola, with approximately 4,910 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

In August, IMA World Health secured funding for and distributed 18 Personal Protective Equipment kits to the Christian Health Association of Liberia. According to Susan Duberstein, IMA World Health's senior director of programs, protecting health care workers is vital in helping to control the outbreak.

"The [protective] suits themselves have a major impact," Duberstein said. "Some of the latest numbers indicate that 400 health care workers in West Africa have been infected and about 233 have died. A lot of that is [the result of] not having adequate equipment, and one of our priorities is to make sure health care workers are protected."

Some health care facilities in the affected area have had to shut down because health care workers are too afraid to go to work, Duberstein said.

"There is a health care worker shortage there to begin with," Duberstein said. "We feel like providing the PPE kits are one of the major priorities for keeping health care workers safe so they can effectively treat those suffering from the disease."

IMA World Health is in the process of securing additional funding to send another 18 kits to the Christian Health Association of Liberia, and Carroll County's Rotary Club of Bonds Meadow is stepping up to support the initiative.

The Westminster-based Rotary Club has kicked off a campaign to raise $63,097 to fund IMA's project to send 18 PPE suits to 18 different health centers in Liberia.

"We feel that we can make a difference in making our world and community a safer place by providing help in the fight of the Ebola epidemic," said Wanda Lynn, president of the Rotary Club of Bonds Meadow. "In the increasingly global world that we live in, the longer an epidemic of this magnitude exists, the greater the chance of further spread."

Peter Whitford, the Rotary Club's international service lane's chairman, said that while the group supports local projects, it places emphasis on international work.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Rotary Club of Bonds Meadow started partnering with IMA World Health about 12 years ago in a project to prevent various diseases, including blindness, in Tanzania, Whitford said. More recently, the two organizations partnered to provide safe motherhood kits to women having babies at home in developing countries.

"When the Ebola crisis broke out, we asked IMA if they had any plans to address this, and they came back to us with this proposal and we decided to get behind it," Whitford said.

Knowing it would be difficult for one club to raise $63,097 in a matter of weeks, Whitford said a district-wide appeal went out to about 60 rotary clubs in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Within a couple weeks, $15,000 had been pledged – $3,000 from the Rotary Club of Bonds Meadow – which was enough for IMA to begin the process of procuring the protective suits.

Whitford said the deadline to raise the money is mid-November, and, depending on shipping times, the suits could be in the hands of health care workers within a month.  

According to a project budget compiled by IMA and the Rotary Club, each PPE kit contains a variety of items, including 30 coveralls, nine pair of boots, 30 pair of heavy duty gloves, body bags, hand sprayers and other items. Each kit cost around $1,500.

The Rotary Club project also includes dollars to cover shipping and costs associated with distributing the kits to 18 different medical centers across three counties.

"It's our duty to support organizations like the Christian Health Association of Liberia; they are on the front lines working with hospitals to save lives and contain this outbreak," IMA World Health Communications Officer Chris Glass said.

To learn more or donate, go to http://www.bondsmeadowrotary.org or visit http://www.imaworldhealth.org.

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