Oregon-based groups describe their work fighting Ebola; offer perspective on the threat the disease poses
With the swirl of uncertainty, anxiety and saturation news coverage surrounding Ebola, Sen. Wyden decided to seek out experts to learn more about the disease and the efforts underway to combat it both here and overseas.
Ron didn’t have to go very far. The Portland area is home to Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International – two world-class organizations that are on the frontlines in the battle against Ebola in West Africa.
On Thursday he met in Portland with Craig Redmond, senior vice president of Programs at Mercy Corps and Joe DiCarlo, vice president of programs at Medical Teams International.
Both these organizations have staff on the ground in West Africa doing difficult and heroic work under very tough conditions. The work they and others are doing in this battle cannot be praised and recognized enough.
It also means Redmond and DiCarlo have valuable first-hand knowledge of what’s working and what’s not as we battle the disease. They know what changes are needed and most importantly, they can offer clear-headed suggestions for how to talk about this serious public health threat.
What they told Sen. Wyden only reinforced some important points:
Ebola is dangerous but the likelihood of people in everyday life in the United States becoming infected is miniscule since the only way to contract Ebola is by coming into direct contact with body fluids of an infected person. The recent cases in Texas have highlighted changes in hospital protocol, education and infection control that should add additional protections and assurance that the disease is being contained.
And while we must be vigilant and fully prepared, people living in Oregon need to keep in mind some absolute facts: There are no direct flights to or from countries affected by the outbreak, which adds additional layers of security from the disease.
The federal government is providing more robust screening of passengers from countries affected by Ebola. In the very unlikely event that Ebola reaches Oregon, state and local health departments have been working closely with the CDC to establish effective quarantine and isolation procedures.
A key challenge for Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International is training community health workers in the affected countries with a special focus on prevention and getting vital health information on the ground to trusted community leaders.
Both organizations also stressed the need to make sure badly needed supplies are not held up by Liberian officials in Liberian ports. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Wyden told officials he would follow up to see what steps must be taken to loosen that bottleneck.
Solving the bottleneck is important here because, while the cases in the United States are an alarming wake-up call, health officials - including one from Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International - agree that the way to end the epidemic and protect us all is by extinguishing it at the source in West Africa.
Mercy Corps, for example, is providing crucial assistance in helping educate people in Liberia about the best ways to respond to Ebola and protect themselves. Public health experts agree that this is essential to breaking the chain of infection.
Medical Teams International, meanwhile, is providing medical supplies and training for community health workers to help prevent the spread of the virus. This is equally crucial to stopping the chain of infection and to stabilize the populations in West Africa as much as possible until the full weight of the international response is in place.
After the briefing, Sen. Wyden met with a standing-room only gathering of about 125 workers from both organizations, fielding questions for nearly an hour.
He told the gathering that he was there to “listen and learn” in a non-politicized setting.
And he praised both Oregon-based groups for their heroic work and the stellar reputations that both carry worldwide.
"Your organizations are both synonymous with trust," Wyden said. “All of you in your program make us so proud because this is a chance for Oregonians to help and for Oregonians to send a message about what our values are all about.”
Asked about the potential that a downturn in the stock market might spark economic uncertainty, Sen. Wyden said to loud applause that he will preserve the charitable deduction - crucial to organizations like Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International - as part of tax reform.
“It is not a loophole,” he said. “It is a lifeline.”