Aid Workers In Short Supply As Ebola Grips Liberia : Goats and Soda When disaster strikes a poor country, aid workers from all over the world normally flood the zone. This time, fear of the virus is keeping experts from answering West Africa's calls for help.
NPR logo

Aid Workers In Short Supply As Ebola Grips Liberia

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Aid Workers In Short Supply As Ebola Grips Liberia

Aid Workers In Short Supply As Ebola Grips Liberia

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. With the number of Ebola cases in Liberia now topping 1,000 and many more cases thought to be unreported, the need for international support has become acute. Liberian officials and aid groups say there is a desperate shortage of supplies and personnel. They need health workers and experts in disease management. But as NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports, recruiting those workers is a challenge.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Sheldon Yett is UNICEF's lead man in Liberia. Over a long career, he's been in the thick of all sorts of crises - wars, earthquakes, epidemics. And he's seen firsthand how when disaster strikes in a poor country, aid workers and experts from all over the world flood the zone. But this time, almost no one's answering the call.

SHELDON YETT: And I'm astounded by how difficult it has been to get the partners we need. It's - people are afraid. I can't convince my own staff to come. It's extremely, extremely difficult. We need skilled, qualified people here.

AIZENMAN: Something about this virus - maybe the fact that it's so deadly, or maybe it's those images of health workers putting on full body protective suits to avoid getting infected - seems to have unnerved the sort of experts needed here.

YETT: The effects of this outbreak will be with us for many, many, many months to come. And we need qualified people here, and we need the funds to address it. The needs are enormous.

AIZENMAN: One of the biggest impacts has been on care centers for people with Ebola. Last weekend, the aid group Doctors Without Borders opened a new center in Monrovia with 120 beds. There were filled almost immediately. The United Nations is promising to help add another 500 beds but not for another six weeks. And they're still on a hunt for doctors. Lindis Hurum is the Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator for Monrovia.

LINDIS HURUM: And the biggest concern has been - as long as I've been there - is to get international staff with Ebola experience. That's what's been stopping us.

AIZENMAN: She says they've already brought in every available person they can. But they don't actually need that many more international experts to expand the treatment centers - just enough to train the Liberians who would do most of the work. Even though working with Ebola patients is extremely dangerous, Brett Adamson says he's had no problem finding Liberians willing to step up. He's coordinator of the new Doctors Without Borders center on the outskirts of Monrovia.

BRETT ADAMSON: It was quite surprising considering the number of health workers that have died. And so they've been amazing. Most of these - we recruited 50, 60, 70 staff in a day.

AIZENMAN: One of the new hires is Amos Togba. He helps disinfect gear and equipment at the center. He says he knows the risks.

AMOS TOGBA: Well, yes, I have some fear. But I have to be brave to do it. That's the only way we're going to attack the virus. Only brave people will do it.

AIZENMAN: Then there are the jobs that aren't hazardous, but are also essential.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good afternoon. Ebola Call Center, how may I help you?

AIZENMAN: Liberia's government recently set up a hotline for people to call in with questions about Ebola or to ask for help. Barkue Tubman helped organize the center with the Facebook callout. She runs a public relations company, and here's what she saw on hiring day.

BARUKE TUBMAN: We walked out the gates, and we saw about 1,000 people in pouring rain.

AIZENMAN: It's rainy season here. And when it comes down, it really comes down. Tubman says they had to turn hundreds of people away. Liberians are also at the forefront of the work that experts say is the real key to quashing the outbreak - going door to door through every community to find out who's sick, to help them get tested and to encourage those who came into contact with the sick person to stay home away from others during the 21 days it takes to find out if they've been infected.

Joyce Kilpo does this by delivering supplies to people under quarantine. On this day, she's bringing rice, salt, cooking oil and sanitary pads to a woman who lost five members of her family.


JOYCE KILPO: We are so sorry for everything that happened.

AIZENMAN: Kilpo makes these runs every day in partnership with an NGO called Action Aid. But she feels like she's barely making a difference.

KILPO: There's a lot of people that not getting the food. And what we are doing is just, I mean, a drop in the ocean.

AIZENMAN: Experts also say the information being gathered by people like Kilpo is of limited use unless it's fed to people with direct experience coordinating disease emergencies. That expertise is missing here too.

Hurum of Doctors Without Borders says the failure of enough experts to show up this time is all the more distressing because it seems to be based on a misconception that they would be putting themselves in immediate danger.

HURUM: There's a lot of things you can do in this response that is not high risk. You do not have to put on that astronaut equipment you see in all the pictures to respond to this crisis.

AIZENMAN: The reality, she says, is that working in Liberia during this outbreak is a lot like working in any other disaster. Nurith Aizenman, NPR News, Monrovia.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.