Bev Kauffeldt and her husband, Kendell, have witnessed many horrors during their service with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia.
In 2005, the couple arrived in the capital, Monrovia, where they learned about the atrocities and physical and emotional after-effects of a country that had undergone a bloody civil war.
Now the couple and their employees are fighting to contain a deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Western Africa.
The outbreak began in late March at Guekadou, Guinea, some 10 to 15 kilometres from the Liberian town of Foya where 145 of Samaritan’s Purse employees work.
Kauffeldt, the daughter of Jacquie and Colin Mayes, says the first line of attack was to educate people about the painful, hemorrhagic disease that kills as many as 90 per cent of its victims.
The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people.
“We told them to wash hands and don’t eat fruit bats, as we’re pretty sure that’s where the virus started,” said Kauffeldt in a Skype interview, noting people are also told not to touch anyone who has the disease or who has died from it.
But deeply rooted burial traditions involve touching and washing the body and braiding hair – customs that are spreading the disease.
“At the end of April, the numbers dropped in Liberia and we had almost no cases in a month,” Kauffeldt says, noting that about three weeks ago, the numbers in nearby Sierra Leone jumped.
“Someone from Sierra Leone goes to a funeral in Guinea, comes back and it just keeps spreading,” says Kauffeldt of the Kgissi tribe that has members in all three countries. “The borders are non-existent in the jungle, so it’s easy to go back and forth.”
While Samaritan’s Purse is not involved in hands-on care at the hospital in Foya, they are rehabilitating one of their wells to provide fresh water.
Meanwhile, the number of cases in Monrovia began to climb after an infected family from Sierra Leone arrived in the capital city.
“The numbers are changing hourly,” says Kauffeldt, describing ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa), the 100-acre mission compound founded in the 1950s that houses staff and includes a hospital with a three-person isolation unit. “One case died this morning and a 12-year-old boy seems to be getting better. We’re hoping and praying his next test will come back negative.”
Kauffeldt says one of the problems they face is that the hospital in the compound is one of few in the country with an isolation unit.
“It’s a multi-layer issue,” she says. “There’s a lack of government capacity. The ministry of health is doing all it can, but they finished a 14-year civil war a decade ago.”
Samaritan’s Purse has formed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in an effort to fill in the gaps. They are providing protective gear and equipment and proper body bags where needed and working with Médecins Sans Frontières to get training in order to assume a greater role.
And, what began as a kitchen and laundry for a new hospital being built in the compound is now being reconfigured to accommodate a 20-bed isolation unit – with the help of a Salmon Arm man.
Hired on as assistant construction manager by Samaritan’s Purse, Richard Kyle has been in Monrovia for just over a month.
A former carpenter on the maintenance staff at Shuswap Lake General Hospital, Kyle says the kitchen and laundry building has been chosen as the isolation unit because of its proximity to the current hospital.
The design, developed with the help of an epidemiologist, will accommodate 10 rooms on one side of the building for patients who are suspected of having Ebola and 10 on the other side for confirmed cases.
“The design of the building is working really well,” says Kyle, who helped build a school/church in Liberia three years ago and felt the call to return. “We are just in the process of making sure we have places for doctors to don protective equipment, then go into wards and have separate spaces where they can decontaminate.”
Being built in phases as money allows, the hospital will eventually hold 130 beds.
“We have 450 great staff members; Kendell and I would be nowhere without them, says Kauffeldt, noting all but 10 are Liberians. “This is the first time Samaritan’s Purse has responded to a disease like Ebola.”