By Senator Bill Frist
On Tuesday, March 31, Hope Through Healing Hands had the honor of hosting Dr. Ian Crozier, an Ebola physician and survivor at an event with Siloam Family Health Center. I had the privilege of talking with Ian as he shared his experiences with the packed auditorium. His message is one that deserves a wide audience.
Ian Crozier trained as a physician at Vanderbilt, specializing in infectious diseases. He was living in Uganda treating HIV patients when he was deployed by the World Health Organization to serve in an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at Kenema General Hospital in Sierra Leone. His time there was brief; he worked just a few weeks before he contracted Ebola and was evacuated to Emory University in Atlanta. But his firsthand experiences are rich with lessons for infectious disease research, global health, and each one of us.
Ian’s story has been chronicled by the New York Times, and although I’m tempted to retell it—because it is so powerful—I want to focus on the challenges he laid out for us.
His is a dual citizenship, Dr. Crozier said: both Ebola physician and Ebola patient, caregiver and sufferer, crusader and survivor. His mission, now, is to raise awareness about the ongoing epidemic and the state of global health in Africa and beyond.
“You can’t put out 99% of a fire.”
Just this week, the outbreak crossed the 25,000-case mark, easily the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Most of the deaths have been in Sierra Leone, though the virus has spread in Liberia and Guinea as well. Liberia, which was three weeks into a case-free waiting period, just announced an infected woman with over 70 contacts.
One case is an outbreak, Dr. Crozier emphasized. The clock now starts over. He challenged us all to stay vigilant, and not forget the ongoing fight.
“Mae we hush.”
A Krio phrase, “mae we hush,” is a term of condolence in Sierra Leone. It’s one that Crozier spoke often as he named just some of the healthcare workers who gave everything to treat their patients in Sierra Leone. Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan led the Kenema Government Hospital Lassa Fever Ward since 2005, and was the first line of defense when Ebola broke out. Mbalu Fonnie was the chief nurse in the ward. Both died in July 2014. Nancy Yoko was the chief nurse when Crozier served in the ETU, an excellent nurse of conviction and hard work. She succumbed to the disease in September 2014 after treating patients for more than three months.
If we don't think about how to raise a group of African healthcare workers, we're doomed, Crozier warned. Global health efforts must include efforts to build up and train local staff.
I agree. It’s one of the primary reasons that Hope Through Healing Hands sponsors Frist Global Health Leaders, whose mandates are to address the shortage of global health workers to improve the quality of life for citizens around the world by providing volunteer services and building self-sustaining caregiver capacity in underserved communities.
Nationwide Healthcare Shortage
As the Ebola outbreak gained traction, it overwhelmed or usurped all other healthcare in the country. Malaria treatment, maternal and child health, regular vaccination programs, nutrition programs, and routine care were abandoned, Dr. Crozier explained.
Hope Through Healing Hands is committed to maternal and child health, and we have witnessed the same thing. Investments in these foundational health programs are essential so that a country’s resources are not subsumed in crisis.
“Joy breaks through.”
An ETU is one of the darkest and loneliest places on earth, Crozier said. Patients who were not yet delirious sat sick and terrified as the virus took hold. More advanced patients stared zombie-like or yelled incoherently, unable to feed or clean themselves.
But against all odds, Crozier insisted, joy breaks through. People lived, and they lived to help each other. Childless parents fostered the recently-orphaned. The whole team celebrated survivals and the virus-free patient’s first touch with an ungloved hand.
Crozier saw what he deemed hell firsthand, and he insisted that there is joy and hope to be had.
Crozier’s story is not over. Even as he recounted his time in Sierra Leone and his time at Emory, he hinted at further developments, ongoing chapters. His own health is still somewhat at risk, and he is working closely with researchers at Emory to track his own recovery and gather data that will inform how we treat Ebola in the future.
“Global health happens here.”
But even as he shared his journey, stretching from Nashville to Africa and back again, Ian encouraged us to remember that the global community is here at our doorstep. Groups like ours—Hope Through Healing Hands and Siloam Family Health—champion global health here, at home. The work we enable makes a difference both half a world away and right down the street.
Photo Credits: Erika Chambers