NPR logo

USAID Head Speaks Of Heroic Efforts — And Heroes — In West Africa

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/356588465/356588466" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
USAID Head Speaks Of Heroic Efforts — And Heroes — In West Africa

USAID Head Speaks Of Heroic Efforts — And Heroes — In West Africa

USAID Head Speaks Of Heroic Efforts — And Heroes — In West Africa

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/356588465/356588466" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

American USAID chief Rajiv Shah meets with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Monrovia. John Moore/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
John Moore/Getty Images

American USAID chief Rajiv Shah meets with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Monrovia.

John Moore/Getty Images

More than 300 beds in a matter of weeks.

That's the plan for construction of the "world's largest Ebola treatment unit" in Liberia, says Rajiv Shah, head of USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development. It's one of 18 facilities going up in Liberia alone.

The czar of the federal agency for foreign aid took a break from his tour of West Africa, where he is monitoring the progress of American interventions, to speak with Morning Edition's Rachel Martin.

"The extraordinary engineering and design is something to watch," Shah said.

Special piping for chlorinated water has been installed, so health care workers can quickly spray down others wearing personal protective equipment after they've treated a patient. Incinerators are being built to dispose of medical waste safely.

A 25-bed "world-class" hospital explicitly for international healthcare workers should also be complete in Monrovia, Liberia, by the end of October, said Shah.

Construction of Ebola facilities is also underway in Sierra Leone and Guinea, he added.

Shah concedes that the number of active Ebola cases will continue to rise before it drops significantly, but he sees hopeful signs: Liberians have already changed their behavior in ways to keep the disease from spreading.

"People are not shaking hands. They're bumping elbows," said Shah. "Everywhere you go, you wash your hands with chlorinated water before walking into any building."

This is Shah's first trip to the region since the outbreak. Asked for his impressions, he spoke of the families who've lost a love one. "It is extraordinarily challenging to lose a member of your family to Ebola. It's even more challenging to know that as that person is passing away, they are a contamination risk, and therefore, the natural human instinct to hug your child is no longer safe. You can just feel the palpable sense of tragedy and that reality," said Shah.

And he had great praise for the healthcare workers. "There are hundreds ... coming in from around the world," he said. "[They] are the heroes of this response. Our goal is to just support these heroes as much as possible and scale this effort as quickly as possible so we tackle Ebola at its source."