MADISON (WKOW) -- Four healthcare workers at a hospital in Liberia that partners with UW-Madison's med school have contracted the Ebola virus.
Doctors here in Madison say it's hard to watch the outbreak spread in Africa as their colleagues face a growing challenge against the disease.
Dr. Janis Tupesis, director of the med school's Global Health Programs Emergency Medicine department, says as soon as the first cases were reported in February and March, his group had to consider whether to call back volunteers. UW, along with almost a dozen other med schools in the U.S., send residents to JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia to train and work with doctors there. They all left the country earlier this year.
In the past 10 days, Tupesis says he's learned of four people at the teaching hospital who have gotten Ebola. Two have died, including one of the most committed healthcare workers in Liberia, JFK's director of medicine Dr. Samuel Brisbane. The doctor contracted the disease then isolated himself and passed away.
"There were stories about him [during the civil war] taking care of patients on the wards with an M-16 because he was fending off factions of armed militant soldiers who were trying to get in the hospitals to steal supplies on a regular basis," says Tupesis. "This is the kind of person who is putting his patients ahead of his own concern."
Tupesis tells 27 News there's not much he or others in the U.S. can do to help out but he says the outbreak is due in part to a lack of infrastructure and resources at hospitals since a long civil war in Liberia. The spread of Ebola is facilitated by lack of basic protections for workers and other patients at hospitals.
"Routine use of gloves, routine use of masks, the ability to sterilize equipment, needles, and safe practices in medicine ... they just don't exist," he says.
Also, symptoms of Ebola are similar to many other diseases that are common in African emergency rooms, including malaria, so it can be harder for doctors to diagnose and isolate patients.
Tupesis has been monitoring the situation in Liberia, trying to keep in touch with hospital officials in Monrovia. He says the future of the affected countries depends on improving the nations' infrastructure and investing in things like hospitals and schools.
"It's heartbreaking to know that for some of your friends and colleagues there is no out," he says. "[The solution is] not necessarily throwing money at the problem, but throwing focused money in the right places."
He encourages people in our area to support a local group called Liberian Assistance Program, which is working to build schools and help communities throughout Liberia. Visit the organization's website for information on how you can help.