A medical assessment team from Kansas City will leave Sunday for Liberia into the heart of the Ebola crisis now ravaging the nations of West Africa.
“This is a very different kind of response than Heart to Heart has been involved in in the past,” said Dan Neal, director of operations for Heart to Heart International, an Olathe-based humanitarian nonprofit that provides medical assistance to crises worldwide. “We have been to hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes. In this case, this is like the tornado is still on the ground, and we’re going into it.
“There is definitely some apprehension among our team. But like my wife said to me last night, ‘If you weren’t nervous, I’d be worried about you.’”
A team of four individuals from Heart to Heart is scheduled to leave from Kansas City International Airport at 8:15 a.m. Sunday on the first leg of a trip to Liberia that is planned to last a week. Materials they have packed include hazardous material suits, safety goggles, gloves and masks.
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The goal of the one-week trip is primarily fact-finding and coordination. The Heart to Heart team will meet with medical personnel already on the ground to assess how — over the next six months or longer — medical volunteers from Heart to Heart might help provide basic primary care to other sick individuals while the country is overburdened by Ebola.
“The goal here is to find the best and safest way to bring in teams of volunteers, doctors and nurses to provide primary care. That’s one of the problems there,” said Heart to Heart director of communications Dan Weinbaum. “It is a crisis within the crisis. The fragile health care system is collapsing under the weight of Ebola.”
Ebola is a deadly hemorrhagic illness with no vaccine or definitive cure. Since March, some 5,600 individuals in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone have been infected. Some 2,6000 have died. The epidemic is expected to expand.
Those going to Liberia include Neal, Heart to Heart founder and physician Gary Morsch, associate director of development Julie Hefner, and registered nurse Sue Mangicaro. They are scheduled to return Sept. 28. Once they return, the plan is to send a series of medical teams — one after another — over at least the next six months for two-week stints each. The teams would be comprised of about 10 individuals each.
How long the nonprofit is able to send personnel depends much on its financial resources. The group is seeking donations.
“We can only go so far as the funding will take us,” Weinbaum said. “We would like to commit to a response lasting six to eight months, rotating teams of medical volunteers in and out. And we have estimated a response like this could cost upwards of $1 million. If necessary, and if we have the funds, we could continue a relief effort out to a year or more.”
Neal said the safety of the volunteers will be a priority.
“Our teams will be briefed and trained on all the safety measures,” he said, “on what they need to do if they are in contact with someone. There will be safety precautions on every single patient.”
On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa as a threat to international peace and security. It passed a resolution that called on countries worldwide to send medical personnel and supplies to help stem the outbreak.
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