Project C.U.R.E.’s presidentandCEO, Douglas Jackson, speaks in the matter-of-fact tone of one who has seen gut-wrenching consequences of inadequate or nonexistent health care systems in the West African countries now battling the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
“A good day in the Sierra Leonean medical system is still a really bad day. I was there in 2012, to help supply some hospitals, and again in December, just before the Ebola outbreak would hit New Guinea in January,” Jackson said.
“I’m walking through this hospital ward, and the beds are old, manual, iron beds with mattresses that were just foam, no cover on them. So patients’ bodily fluids just go into the mattress. You can imagine how bad these places smell,” he said. “We walk through these two big swinging doors, and there’s a mom five feet away in full eclamptic shock. Her eyes roll back, she gets the death rattle, and she dies. The doctor tells me they can’t do a cesarean section because there’s no anesthesia. That is the state of health care that I saw in Sierra Leone. Now add to that, Ebola.”
For the past 17 years, Jackson has steered the charity, based in Colorado, that his parents founded in their garage about30 years ago. It’s the nation’s largest provider of donated medical supplies and equipment to third-world countries around the globe. He was in Chicago onThursday night for a joint fundraiser held with Chicago’s Sierra Leone Embassy, and the departments of medicine and global health at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The Ebola outbreak, centered in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, has thus far killed more than 3,800 people and infected more than 8,000 in West Africa. Six people were treated in hospitals in the United States in recent weeks. Five of the six,who are Americans, were successfully treated. The sixth, Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, who was the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., died in Dallas on Wednesday.
With the European Union seeing its first cases this week, and the U.S. beginning screenings of airline passengers arriving from West Africa at O’Hare and four other major airports, funds are desperately needed to help medical personnel in Africa combat the outbreak, Jackson said.
According to the World Health Organization, there are only one to two doctors per 100,000 patients in the three severely affectedcountries, and they desperately need personal protective equipment — gowns, gloves,head covers, face shields, masks, duct tape, coveralls, boots and covers, heavy duty aprons, goggles and defoggers. Jackson’s group is seeking donations of such equipment and raising funds to ship them.
“What they’ll do is they’ll glove up, put a pair of gloves on, then they’ll put the gown on, and then put another pair of gloves on, then they’ll duct tape the seams shut, and they’ll wrap that thing around, because what you have to do is prevent any of that bodily fluid from coming in contact. And if it gets in your eyes, if it gets in your nose, you’re going to die. It’s that tough to fight this,” Jackson said.
Mundelein-based Medline Industries, Inc., the largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of health care supplies in the U.S., recently joined the fight, donating more than 330,000 exam gloves last month to Project C.U.R.E. for hospitals in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
“They’ve been super, super generous,” Jackson said.
Medical personnel fighting the outbreak have been contracting the virus at alarming rates. More than 120 havedied, and more than 240 are infected. Experts blame the lack of personal protectiveand sterilization equipment, as well as Ebola’s incubation period of up to 21 days as major contributing factors.
“And these health care workers? You can save them. When they come out of the theater, you spray them down with Clorox, and then have somebody who’s also gowned up, help take their gown off,” Jackson said. “But a lot of these docs were contaminating themselves by taking the gown off and you get the stuff on you.And they couldn’t find bleach in Liberia. So one of the loads we just did was a whole bunch of what’s called Cidex. . . a basic cleaner that kills germs.”
The disease, with a fatality rate of at least 60percent, has no approved vaccine or drugs.
Nigeria and Senegal saw cases in August and September that were linked to individuals who traveled to those countries from Liberia and Guinea, respectively, with no new cases reported in those countries. But the outbreak will get worse before it gets better, Jackson said.
“This virus, if you plot it in on a bell curve, we’re probably still on the uptick side. We’ve not seen it cap, and I’ve seen statistics from 25,000 to 1.4 million people are supposed to be infected. It’s just math, people are making guesses. But what everybody agrees on is that it has not stopped multiplying. We’re going to see a lot more new cases,” he said.
“I was in Ghana six weeks ago, and the people in Ghana, they’re all getting prepared, because it was in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, then it hopped over and it went to Nigeria, skipping Ghana, Togo, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire. So these other countries are sitting in the middle of this hot zone, hoping and praying, wondering when is it going to come here.”
People who want to donate can visit the website of Project C.U.R.E., which this year opened its fifth national hub and distribution center in Melrose Park, at www.projectcure.org. Or they may contribute to the Chicago Cares campaign of the groups that sponsored Thursday’s fundraiser, by visiting http://goo.gl/CHLMbP
“We’ve been working in these places where the crisis is for years,” said Jackson, 52, whose group made the Forbes’ 2011 list of the 20 Most Efficient Large U.S. Charities. It’s rated highly by charity watch groups GuideStar and Charity Navigator.
“When the crisis came up, it was a natural for us. People said,’Please help us.’ So we started loading stuff and shipping to our partners in these affected countries,” Jackson said.
“We would love to have an opportunity to engage organizations with Project C.U.R.E. here in Chicago. You know, because we run so efficiently, it costs us about $20,000 to deliver a semi-truck trailer. There’s 800 cartons [of WHO-approved Ebola infection prevention kits] that we can put in one of these containers, at $25 bucks a carton. So if somebody feels like ‘Hey, I’ll do five boxes,’ it’s something that we can do, and we can get that help there.
“Sadly, we’re going to be in these countries for a long, long time.”