By Courtney Beckwith - August 1, 2014

Ebola. A word that you hear and without fully understanding the meaning of, know the depth and depravity of how seriously it can damage an area of under developed living.

Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe viral illness that is transmissible through direct contact to blood or other bodily fluids. The symptoms for this disease are fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and ultimately it is often fatal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the fatality rate of EVD is 90 percent and it is largely a problem in West Africa.

In April of 2014 this disease took up residence in Guinea, Africa and has since moved its way across the border into Sierra Leone and Liberia where it is continuing to spread throughout the area causing residents to take up refuge in hospitals in hopes of medical assistance.

Gillian Seton, a deferred mission appointee for AHI, is working in Liberia as a general surgeon at Cooper Adventist Hospital. She started working February 2014 and just as she was getting settled in, the outbreak occurred forcing her to deal with more serious problems than she might have expected right from the start.

The problem that many hospitals, Cooper included, are faced with is the fact that they are understaffed and undersupplied. In order to provide superior care, medical professionals need to feel safe at their work. But due to the EVD outbreak they are being faced with situations that test their judgment on whether to treat the patients or send them away to John F. Kennedy, the government hospital, for their own personal safety and the safety of those around them.

Seton said, “The outbreak seemed to die down for a few weeks, at least here in Liberia, and June saw a steady increase in cases. Since then, the number of cases and deaths has risen steadily. Almost doubling in the past two and a half weeks.”

According to the WHO on July 31, there were a total of 122 new cases of EVD and 57 deaths reported due to this outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Liberia alone reported 80 new cases and 27 deaths. One of the significant problems in the area is misdiagnosis and identification of what diseases and infections the patients actually have. With so many patients coming in with EVD, Malaria and other illnesses, it is difficult for medical professionals to stay on top of what is happening. Due to this, Seton commented that misdiagnosis is a serious problem when it comes to treating the outbreak.

“We have taken every infectious disease caution that I can think of,” Seton said. “As long as the staff follow these procedures, then they should be protected from accidental exposure.”

Although no one at Cooper has been diagnosed with EVD, Seton goes on to say that the largest risk for the staff at Cooper hospital comes from administering IVs and injections.

“Fortunately, AHI, the General Conference, the West African Union and ADRA have taken it upon themselves to provide adequate gloves, cleaning agents, alcohol, vomit bags, etc. that will help us care for patients while still protecting ourselves and other patients,” Seton said. “As for further help in the long term, we need people with experience, equipment, and donations to help provide the care that the people of Liberia need.”