The former Fort Worth doctor infected with Ebola while working in Liberia indicated Friday that he’s getting stronger every day, and the husband of an American aid worker who also contracted the deadly virus in Liberia said his wife seems to be improving.
Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, both being treated in a hospital isolation unit in Atlanta, were infected while working at a missionary clinic outside Liberia’s capital Monrovia. They were flown back to the United States on a special medical evacuation plane earlier this week.
Brantly said he didn’t go to Liberia specifically to fight Ebola, but his work turned toward treating an increasing number of infected patients.
“I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror firsthand, and I can still remember every face and name,” Brantly said in a statement put out by Samaritan’s Purse, the aid organization he works with in Africa.
“I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease.”
Public health emergency
On Friday, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency and urged nations worldwide to donate money and resources to stop its spread.
The latest Ebola outbreak is the largest and longest ever recorded for the disease, which has a death rate of about 50 percent and has so far killed at least 961 people, according to the U.N. health agency.
It emerged in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
“Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,” WHO chief Margaret Chan told a news conference Friday in Geneva. “I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible.”
The world’s “collective health security” depends on curbing the spread of the killer virus in West Africa, even as she acknowledged that many countries would probably not have any Ebola cases.
The Nigerian government declared containing the Ebola virus in Africa’s most populous country a national emergency Friday, after two Ebola patients died and the health ministry said seven other cases were confirmed. President Goodluck Jonathan approved spending $11.7 million to fight the disease and urged schools to extend a current holiday to give experts more time to assess the Ebola threat.
Since Ebola was first identified in 1976, there have been more than 20 outbreaks in central and eastern Africa; this is the first to affect West Africa. The virus causes symptoms including fever, vomiting, muscle pain and bleeding. It is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids like blood, sweat, urine, saliva and diarrhea.
The U.N. agency convened an expert committee this week to assess the severity of the Ebola epidemic. WHO declared similar emergencies for the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and for polio in May.
The impact of WHO’s declaration Friday is unclear; its similar declaration about polio doesn’t yet seem to have slowed the spread of the paralytic virus.
“Statements won’t save lives,” said Dr. Bart Janssens, director of operations for the Doctors Without Borders charity group. “For weeks, [we] have been repeating that a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed. Lives are being lost because the response is too slow.”
“I don’t know what the advantage is of declaring an international emergency,” said Dr. David Heymann, who directed WHO’s response to the SARS outbreak and is now a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “This could bring in more foreign aid but we don’t know that yet.”
This week, the World Bank pledged up to $200 million in emergency funding to help the countries affected by Ebola and strengthen public health systems across West Africa.
On Friday, the European Union said it would chip in an additional 8 million euros ($10.7 million) to Ebola efforts and send a second mobile lab to help with diagnostics. USAID also announced it would invest an extra $12.45 million to support the fight against Ebola.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already warned Americans against traveling to West Africa. The agency also put U.S. hospitals on alert for symptoms so they can spot potential cases.
Brantly and Writebol were given doses of an experimental treatment before leaving Liberia. Writebol’s husband, David, said his wife has received another dose since arriving in Atlanta.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Brantly had also received another round of the medication in Atlanta. The treatment, which aims to boost the immune system’s efforts to fight off Ebola, is still in development and hasn’t been tested in humans.
David Writebol, who remains in Liberia, told reporters Friday in a phone call that although he hasn’t spoken directly to his wife’s doctors, his sons told him she’s showing some improvement.
“I don’t believe we could say she’s in the clear,” David Writebol said. “I would say she’s in very good hands and is being well attended to.”
Few specific details have been released about their conditions. Todd Shearer with Samaritan’s Purse said Brantly’s family has asked that no condition information be given out. The president of SIM USA, the group Writebol was working for, referred questions to Emory, which has declined comment, citing patient privacy.
Brantly, 33, completed his family medicine residency at JPS Health Network in June 2013. He has been working for the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia since October as part of the organization’s post-residency program for doctors. Writebol of Charlotte, N.C., was part of the joint Serving In Mission/Samaritan’s Purse medical team.
Associated Press medical writer Maria Cheng in London and reporter Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report, which includes information from Star-Telegram archives.