September 21, 2014

A Medical Charity Battles a Rampaging Epidemic in Africa

Photographs by Sylvain Cherkaoui/Cosmos/Redux

Doctors Without Borders staff members work through the night at an Ebola treatment center in Conakry, Guinea.

Doctors Without Borders provides medical care under some of the toughest conditions on earth, and fighting the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is no exception. Doctors and nurses work long hours, don heavy protective gear in searing heat, and follow exacting protocols to treat patients who have contracted the highly contagious disease.

"They work in extremely stressful conditions," says Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders USA. "There is such a stigma and a furor around the disease."

Until the rate of infection began to spiral in recent weeks, Doctors Without Borders was treating more than two-thirds of confirmed Ebola cases in West Africa. The group now has more than 1,850 staff members working in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Senegal.

Doctors Without Borders has also been outspoken as it tries to goad the international community into action.

"Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it," Joanne Liu, the group’s international president, said earlier this month in a speech at the United Nations. "Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat."

As the number of new cases continues to climb, the most pressing need is for more treatment centers, says Ms. Delaunay. Doctors Without Borders and the ministries of health in affected countries are working hard to educate residents about Ebola and the importance of going to the hospital at the first sign of symptoms.

"But the problem is that half of the health facilities are closed," she says. "A lot of health workers have died of Ebola, and there aren’t enough isolation units available."

Doctors Without Borders has raised more than $27-million worldwide for its response to the Ebola crisis. So far, the organization has held to its policy of encouraging donors to make unrestricted gifts, which Ms. Delaunay says allows the group to be agile when responding to other emergencies.

"At this moment, we’re also dealing with massive operations in South Sudan, in the Central African Republic, in Syria," she says. "Unfortunately, these crises do not attract the attention of the public. It’s a delicate balance for us."

Send an e-mail to Nicole Wallace.