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Isle expert urges more professionals to aid in Ebola threat [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser]
[October 13, 2014]

Isle expert urges more professionals to aid in Ebola threat [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser]

(Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 12--The plane that carried Honolulu resident Leroy Harris to Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 16 was largely empty as people veered away from the nation that has suffered most from the Ebola virus.

"There were maybe 30 people on that whole big plane," said Harris, who was part of a team of consultants invited by the Liberian government. "Everyone on the plane was coming to work, or part of a U.N. agency or a family member." His flight coming out of Monrovia on Oct. 3 was fairly full. The inflow of expertise to the country needs to ramp up, according to Harris, who traveled to Liberia as an engagement specialist for the Defense Department's Center for Disaster & Humanitarian Assistance Medicine.

More professionals, with proper gear and training, are needed in Liberia and neighboring countries to handle and contain the outbreak of the deadly virus.

"They don't have the health care workers -- they just don't have them," he said. "They've got to have trained folks come in. We need to get more health care professionals on the ground to help with this fight. We should go over there and do the right thing. Every delay just creates more and more problems." As CEO of HITmethods, Inc., a Hawaii-based health information technology and management consulting firm, Harris has worked in more than a dozen African nations. He and John Jordan, CEO of Crisis Management in Jacksonville, Fla., a retired U.S. Army colonel, traveled to Monrovia at the request of the Liberian government.

Harris, a retired naval lieutenant commander, returned to Honolulu on Tuesday, after a stopover in Germany to brief U.S. military officials.

While in Monrovia, he and Jordan met with government ministers and the National Disaster Relief Commission, trying to enhance coordination among agencies as they implement the country's pandemic response plan.

"It highlighted to Liberia that responding to Ebola is more than a health crisis," he said. "A disaster requires a lot more effort from all parts of government. It requires the whole of society." Harris noted that the medical emergency can set off a cascade of problems, as people fail to show up for work, schools are shut down, farmers stop growing crops and food prices rise, for example. A range of needs must be met, from security to equipment, transport, and food and water for those in quarantine.

"The idea is that everybody can be on one coordinated sheet of music when they actually respond," he said. "You can't do stuff by sequence; everything has to occur and everyone has to swim in their lane at the same time." Miscommunication is easy in an atmosphere of fear. Liberia has 16 tribes and a multiplicity of dialects, he said.

"How do you reach all the way to the villages and get a message out that you are there to help them, and not bring Ebola to them?" he said. "It's very, very critical for folks to understand." Liberia has recorded 2,316 deaths during the Ebola outbreak, more than any other country, the Associated Press reported Friday. The World Health Organization said 4,033 confirmed, probable or suspected Ebola deaths have been recorded so far, all but nine of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

David Nabarro, the U.N. special envoy for Ebola, warned Friday that unless the world mobilizes to support the affected countries, "it will be impossible to get this disease quickly under control, and the world will have to live with the Ebola virus forever," the AP reported.

Harris acknowledged that recruiting staff to go to Liberia is difficult because of fear of the devastating illness. But he stressed that workers can be safe with the proper precautions. People are contagious only when they have symptoms, and the disease doesn't spread through the air, like the common cold, and is more akin to AIDS, he said.

"Unless you are actually exchanging body fluids, it's very difficult to get it," Harris said. "It's not something that's going to leap from my body onto someone else." While in Liberia, Harris did not visit treatment centers or patients. Before entering any government or commercial building, he and others washed their hands with a bleach solution and had their temperatures taken.

Harris was cleared at the airport before leaving Monrovia, he said, and is checking his temperature regularly during the potential incubation period. He is playing it safe. Upon his return to Honolulu, he greeted his wife with "a nice hug." ___ (c)2014 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Visit The Honolulu Star-Advertiser at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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