ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Ebola survivor and American Doctor Kent Brantly had senators and congress riveted this week when he told them about one of his patients. His name was Francis. Francis lived in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. As he lay dying, he told Brantly that he knew how we got infected - from helping a sick neighbor into a cab.
KENT BRANTLY: If someone had come alongside Francis and provided him with the personal protective equipment he needed, his family would still have their father and their son.
SIEGEL: That kind of gear and information is in kits that will soon be distributed by the U.S. government in Liberia. But as NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports, the home health care kits come with mixed messages.
NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Here's what's in these kits...
NANCY LINDBORG: It's a bucket that contains a sprayer, which is used for disinfectant, rolls of bags for capturing any infected garments or items, gloves, a gown, a mask, soap, chlorine.
AIZENMAN: Nancy Lindborg is a top official at USAID. She says the agency's plan is to distribute the kits to 400,000 households across Liberia. The first 50,000 kits are arriving next week. And here's the question - can these kits help slow this outbreak? Kits like this have been distributed in previous Ebola outbreaks, but never on this scale. Dr. Daniel Bausch is an infectious disease expert with Tulane University and the U.S. Navy. He's advising the U.S. government on the current Ebola outbreak, though he's not working directly on the home kits.
DANIEL BAUSCH: In previous outbreaks, the question was is it better to try to take care of people at home with these sorts of kits or should we really focus on getting people into an Ebola treatment units? But that's not an option now.
AIZENMAN: There are very few treatment centers in Liberia. So people are taking care of their family members at home. They don't have a choice. President Obama is promising to build 17 new treatment centers with a total of 1,700 beds. But that's going to take time.
BAUSCH: Until we can do that, I think that we have to be honest. And we have to offer people what protections and what care we can even though it's far from ideal.
AIZENMAN: But USAID says that the kits are not meant to be used to provide treatment. For instance, they don't contain Tylenol for fevers or rehydration salts to help replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Officials say the most important item in the kit is an information pamphlet telling people how to protect themselves. Dr. Bausch says that while using items in the kits like gloves or surgical gowns won't completely protect the family members and friends of someone with Ebola, every little bit helps.
BAUSCH: If we can cut down - rather than having five infected people from a sick person in a home, if we can cut down to three, obviously that's a good thing.
AIZENMAN: Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.
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