Visit saloneaction.com to learn more about Sierra Leone Action and its efforts to combat the Ebola virus.
A Gainesville physician is doing his part to free the Ebola virus’ deadly grip on his native Sierra Leone, and he is hoping the hard work of a group he belongs to will pay off soon.
“We believe we need to make (quick) decisions to combat this disease before it gets out of hand,” said Dr. Ernest Kamara, who cares for hospitalized patients at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
“And the international community needs to put a little more support into treatment in those areas. Otherwise, we’re not going to be able to stop this. It’s going to go global.”
Kamara, speaking last week in an interview at the hospital, belongs to Sierra Leone Action, a group of professionals from the West Africa country who were trained, live and work in the U.S.
Group members decided they couldn’t sit idly by as the disease ravaged their homeland.
More than 14,000 cases and more than 5,000 deaths have been recorded in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the outbreak is concentrated, The Associated Press has reported.
“We as Sierra Leoneans had to do something,” Kamara said.
The group initially wanted to see if it could pool resources “to send home food stuff and personal protective equipment, such as gowns, masks and gloves,” Kamara said.
Working through a Sierra Leone group, Women in National Development, SLA has been trying “to get information about what’s going on and what we can do to help,” he said.
SLA researched treatment options and debated whether to push pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines.
“What we learned is that (with) vaccine development, it is one thing to get it to the market. It’s another thing to get enough of the vaccine for commercial use,” Kamara said. “And it’s a third thing to get it ... cheap enough to send to those countries.”
The group determined it could get best results with convalescent serum therapy, which uses blood from early Ebola survivors to treat current patients. The blood contains antibodies to the virus.
“We found that this is the best option that’s available in these countries at this stage, that is readily available and doesn’t cost as much as developing vaccines or drugs,” Kamara said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, countries with “widespread transmission” are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
For the past few months, SLA has been pushing the Sierra Leone government on moving forward on the therapy.
“There are individuals who have received (the serum therapy) in the United States ... and are walking out of the hospital,” Kamara said. “Our goal is to implement this therapy (in Sierra Leone) because we know it works.”
To handle the crisis, officials in Sierra Leone have set up a task force made up of physicians and other professionals.
SLA has sent protocols it developed and that have been reviewed by the Red Cross and the World Health Organization.
“When I talk to the elected officials there, it’s not a matter of I know better than they do,” Kamara said. “I really don’t. I’m not an Ebola expert. We explained that to them, ‘We’re just concerned and we’re doing research and coming up with information that you can use to make your decisions.’
“I can’t even fathom what it’s like to be the one making these decisions on their end. ... I’m sure people are running scared and are concerned.”
The serum therapy has been approved by Sierra Leone’s health ministry. So, otherwise, SLA is waiting for it to get the green light from the government and treatments to begin.
SLA has volunteers “on the ground” in Sierra Leone, and Women in National Development has identified Ebola survivors who have agreed to provide blood, Kamara said.
“We have treatment centers in place with local physicians who are willing to assist,” he said.
Moving forward with the treatment would certainly please Kamara and the rest of his group, but, he said, “I’ll be happy when the last person with Ebola is free of disease.”
Kamara, who left Sierra Leone for the U.S. when he was 14 and since has lived and been educated here, maintains family ties to the country.
“I have an older sister and older brother back home, as well as a lot of cousins and people I grew up with and keep in touch with,” he said. “On a daily basis, I may have 10 conversations with different people in Sierra Leone about what’s going on.”
His father, a retired politician from the country, was visiting the U.S. in May before the outbreak. He is still in the U.S.
“We had a discussion with him and he said, ‘It looks like I’m not going anywhere,’” Kamara said. “We said, ‘You’re right, you’re not going anywhere.’ My dad is an ultrapatriot. He wants to be in his country