Containing Ebola means we must care for the caregivers


by Joe Runge, UNeMed | Sept. 5, 2014

Dr. Rick Sacra, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a missionary with SIM, contracted Ebola while volunteering at the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. His wife, Debbie, explained that he was not “someone who can stand back when there is a need that he can take care of.”

Ebola virus infects a cell

This digitally-colorized scanning electron micrograph depicts numerous filamentous Ebola virus particles (blue) budding from a chronically-infected VERO E6 cell (yellow-green).
(Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

That need was not treating patients with Ebola, but caring for pregnant women in the shattered and overwhelmed Liberian healthcare system. By doing that, Dr. Sacra was indirectly contributing to the containment of the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, and to the health and safety of everyone.

It is hard to get volunteers to treat such a deadly disease, especially in such an under-resourced part of the world. The risk is deadlier when basic protective equipment like gloves and gowns are in short supply. It is, however, the doctors, nurses and volunteers who contain the epidemic. To stop the disease, they risk their lives.

What are we to do when the people protecting us from Ebola are infected?

Dr. Sacra has paid a terrible price for his part in containing the disease. Mercifully, his chances of surviving the infection are dramatically better. He will receive proper care in one of the four places in the United States qualified to treat him safely—the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

It is cruel that most caregivers and patients afflicted with Ebola are not afforded the best possible care. It is also cruel that so many caregivers do not get the benefit of UNMC’s advanced Biocontainment Facility. It is, however, a privilege to take care of Dr. Sacra, and help him fight off this deadly infection.

His transport to UNMC does carry risk, but only to the people in direct contact with him: The brave air crew and emergency personnel that brought him to UNMC, and the dedicated staff of the Biocontainment Facility that will care for him. Even with state of the art protection, the personal risk to all of them is still very real.

Ebola is scary, but the risk to Omaha is not from Dr. Sacra. It is from an uncontained epidemic a continent away.

I am proud to be part of an institution that, in a very public way, is helping to contain the crisis. Bringing Dr. Sacra to Omaha makes everyone safer by reassuring caregivers that we will not turn our backs when they can be safely cared for.

Welcome to Omaha, Dr. Sacra. We will have you back in Massachusetts in no time.

One Response to Containing Ebola means we must care for the caregivers

  1. […] 9. Containing Ebola means we must care for the caregivers […]