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Americans were shocked by news of the first documented case of Ebola in the United States yesterday. But for communities with families in West Africa, the ongoing story has been intensely local for months. We speak with leaders from the African Immigrant Caucus, including a Liberian-American pastor whose church has been directly impacted by the disease.
- Bishop Darlingston Johnson Senior Pastor, Bethel World Outreach Church (Silver Spring, MD); Co-founder, African Immigrant Caucus (AIC)
- Nii Akuetteh Leader of the African Immigrant Caucus' Ebola Task Force
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the case of The Disappearing Dish, a behind the scenes look at how restaurants make changes to their menu.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, news broke yesterday about the first confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S. The patient traveled from the West African Country of Liberia and is now being treated in Dallas. The Centers for Disease Control, Centers for Disease Control is working to find anyone who may have come into contact with the infected man.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there are no other suspected cases of Ebola in that state. For many Americans, Ebola has seemed like a distant problem since the start of the outbreak, only effecting those living thousands of miles away. But for African families and immigrants in the U.S., Ebola has been a local issue for months.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe have heard coverage from medical professionals who remind us that with modern infrastructure and healthcare, the disease is difficult to spread. But today, we talk with two guests, who as African immigrants, are personally invested in a coordinated response to stop the outbreak. Joining me now to discuss this is Nii Akuetteh, he is leader of the African Immigrant Caucus' Ebola Talk Force. Nii Akuetteh, good to see you again, not necessarily though, under these circumstances.
MR. NII AKUETTEHAbsolutely, and thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIYou're more than welcome. Joining us by phone is Bishop Darlingston Johnson. He is Senior Pastor at Bethel World Outreach Church in Silver Spring and chairman of the Steering Committee of the African Immigrant Caucus. Bishop Johnson, thank you for joining us again.
BISHOP DARLINGSTON JOHNSONThank you, Kojo, for having us.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, what should the U.S. role be, in responding to Ebola in West Africa? If you're a healthcare professional, would you be willing to help? Give us a call, 800-433-8850, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. You can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIHealth officials have been careful to remind us that to contact (sic) Ebola, one has to come into contact with bodily fluids of an infected person, it does not travel through the air. And with modern health infrastructure, it can be contained rather simply. Why has the case or the spread of Ebola been such a problem in West African countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, Nii, is it infrastructure?
AKUETTEHAbsolutely, that's what it is. And the weak infrastructure, in those countries at least to my -- from my view, comes from two sources. Those countries happened to have had Civil Wars and instability for quite a few years. Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, they share a common border. But I also think, if you look back to previous economic policies, the emphasis has been on keeping government small, getting away from social investments. So some of us think that, you know, this has -- have weakened the health infrastructures in those countries and then, of course, the Civil Wars pushed them further down.
NNAMDIAnd as a result of that, the weakened infrastructure is what has led there, to the fact that they're not always able to quarantine Ebola patients from other sick people.
AKUETTEHAbsolutely, and, you know, some of the best experts, here in the U.S., actually say that the best form of quarantine is technology. When you can, you can -- you are able to tell who's infected and who is not because the crude physical quarantine can lead to problems, when people are just kept in the place and they can't move, they can't get out. So better technology and more sophisticated infrastructure, allows you to tell who is at risk and who is not.
NNAMDIBishop Johnson, your congregation, the Bethel World Outreach church in Silver Spring, also has churches in Liberia. How have those communities been affected by the Ebola outbreak?
JOHNSONWell, directly. And we've lost several pastors. A pastor and his wife passed away to -- as a result of this disease. I just got an email from our overseer there and he was telling me that in Nimba County, which is several hours from Monrovia, again, in one of our churches, pastor and a number of members in the family had become affected by this virus and there were only two ambulances in the entire county, there's over a 100,000 people, two ambulances and one of them was not working. There was no treatment center in the county.
JOHNSONAnd so they had to make a decision and we had sent some money to assist, and they had made a decision to go up there and actually have to fix one of the ambulances and transport as many of those who were affected as possible to Monrovia to get treatment. And the good news is, as a result of the intervention, we just wrote to say that, the pastor, his wife and a number of those people have been released from the treatment center and have recovered.
JOHNSONThese were people who were going to die with a death sentence, simply because there was no treatment center where they were and there were only two ambulances, one of which was not working. And that's the kind of situation that's happening and this is why people are dying needlessly, as deadly and as serious as Ebola is, if people can get treatment, supportive treatment early, the chances of recovery are high.
NNAMDINii, just explain about the infrastructure problems, so, again, in this case, Liberia, people may not understand why the virus is hard to contain there. You may have just, in fact, explained a part of that.
JOHNSONUm-hum, exactly, and that continues to be exacerbated by the crisis. The system was already weak and what has happened, has basically decimated our healthcare system and that's why we're grateful, at this point, that there is intervention by the International Community, led by President Obama. We only hope that things would happen more quickly, a lot of good intentions but time is of essence.
NNAMDIBishop Darlingston Johnson is Senior Pastor at Bethel World Outreach Church in Silver Spring. He's Chairman of the Steering Committee of the African Immigrant Caucus, he joins us by phone. Nii Akuetteh is leader of the African Immigrant Caucus' Ebola Taskforce. He joins us in studio. If you have questions or comments, you can call us at 800-433-8850, you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIFor West African's living in the United States, some must have family and friends living in those areas affected by Ebola or have regularly traveled to and from their home countries. How are they dealing with loved ones in those areas, Nii?
AKUETTEHOh, I think, you know, as you can well imagine, the -- inside our community, there is a lot of anxiety and worry but also there is, you know, people are taking action with our community members, collect equipment and, in kind, donations and shipping them. In fact, the Liberian Doctors Association, I happen to know, sent a plane load of 4,000 equipment, smaller groups are collecting everything that is needed. People are sending donations and also the Immigrant Caucus, our umbrella organization itself, we have been pushing for a number of things.
AKUETTEHOf course, I mean, we targeted the Federal Government in the White House, way before the president announced, what we call, the surge and we are very happy we did that, 3,000 military will help build more hospitals. We held a function in the Senate, we believe in Africa to -- on -- it actually fell on 9/11. So our concern was for the victims of 9/11 but also the victims of Ebola.
AKUETTEHAnd now, we are doing -- two things we are doing, moving forward, even after the president surge, it's number one on the budget for 2015, for the Federal Government. It hasn't been done yet. When Congress comes back, the lameduck Congress, we have been pushing key members to make sure that there is enough money for the CDC and other agencies, USAID helping and crucially, the Federal Government has told us that, listen, we can build the hospitals and we can equip them but we need actual medical personnel, nurses and doctors.
AKUETTEHAnd there happen to be, a big chunk of our community are, doctors and nurses, trained in Africa, who live here. So we are making outreach to our community members saying that, you, of all people, need to step up and get training and go help with Ebola, for just a few short weeks.
NNAMDIJanice from Silver Spring, who couldn't stay on the line, wanted to know, what kind of fundraising you're doing and how people can contribute, Nii?
AKUETTEHWell, we have fundraising ideas in the work. You know, a number of other organizations are doing this. As of now, the fund -- where we are, we want people, who can, to write checks and they can -- first, they should also email us because we will direct them where best to send the check. Some of the groups are International Medical Corp, Doctors Without Borders, they are on the ground. Again, sending any kind of donations is always good but checks are even better because they are easier to handle, provided that they go to reputable groups.
NNAMDIBishop Johnson, this person who got the first case of Ebola in the U.S., traveled from Liberia before staying with a family in Dallas. What sorts of precautions do people take if they have family or friends coming to visit from affected areas?
JOHNSONWell, again, we're assuming that the inspection that is done on the ground before allowing people to board flights to the U.S., for the most part, are effective. And so the assumption is that, as people travel to the U.S., most of them come and there is no real risk of them being able to transmit that disease. But there is the caution and I think some people are self-quarantining themselves.
JOHNSONIt's common now, when you meet someone who recently has come from the region is, how long have you been here? And the answer is, oh, I've been here for a month. Well, I've been here for 23 weeks or I've been here for two weeks. And, obviously, there's less concern that that person has the ability to transmit. So those who have come in and are more and more beginning to self-quarantine themselves, are limiting their exposure until that 21 day window has transpired.
NNAMDINii, explain what that 21 day window is all about.
AKUETTEHWell, because the experts, the medical authorities tell us that, once a person's infected with the Ebola virus, it takes about 21 days for the virus to overcome the bodies systems and protection. And then, after 21 days, they begin to show symptoms. They get fever and before the 21 days, they can't infect anyone. But...
JOHNSONSo, Nii, the thing I need to correct that.
JOHNSONThe 21 days is a maximum. If a person has been infected, the symptoms will show up before 21 days.
JOHNSONIf 21 days has transpired and there are no symptoms, it is certain that that person is not a carrier and that person's not infected. So the symptoms show up before 21 days. If it hasn't shown up in 21 days, that person has not been exposed to the virus.
NNAMDINii, you mentioned President Obama announcing the United States military will be providing equipment and resources to help fight Ebola in West Africa. But you also talked about the importance of getting medical professionals who have come from those areas, to go back and to help. Why is it so important to get doctors from those areas and how do you get them to go?
AKUETTEHThere are two reasons why it is important. Number one, you know, this is a global problem, so everybody should be concerned. But, you know, some people, frankly, should be more concerned than others. And the people who should be most concerned, we think, are our community, the African immigrants who are here. Now, it so happens that a lot of the African -- well, a good chunk of the African immigrants are medical professionals. I have a sibling who is a doctor here.
AKUETTEHWell, many of them -- I mean, one of the largest organizations of doctors in the United States is the Nigerian doctor. So there are many African doctors and nurses here. So, basically, we think that it is important, with all the help coming from the U.S. Government, from individuals writing checks, our community has a special obligation to step up and know they have the requisite training and skills.
AKUETTEHSo, yes, we are reaching out to medical professionals in our community and we are doing it through the medical associations, we are doing it by word of mouth, through our communities. And once they link up with us and we would like for them, you know, to send us email at Africanimmigrantcaucus@gmail.org. Once they do that, they need to get training before they get on the ground in West Africa. That training is being given by the CDC, in Atlanta. But before the CDC will train you, you have to be vetted and linked with one of the organizations on the ground.
AKUETTEHSo we have the middleman trying to reach out to the people, connect them with the organizations, get them training. And there is a whole lot of support system that will help when -- before they go, while they are there and when they return.
NNAMDIMr. Johnson, what do you think needs to be done to respond to the Ebola outbreak?
JOHNSONAgain we are very grateful for what the government is doing but at this point in time I want to appeal to individuals, groups, churches, social organizations to contribute finances as much as possible. Again, Nii had already suggested one or two of those groups that are already on the ground. You can send us an email and we can help guide you. But the more money that we can get involved as quickly as possible to purchase simple things like disinfectants.
JOHNSONI just had an instance where a life had been saved because an ambulance that needed to be fixed had to be fixed. And so if we can encourage individuals, groups to begin to increase their financial support to groups that are on the ground making a difference, I believe many lives will be saved.
NNAMDIHere is Elhaj in Wheatland, Md. Elhaj, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELHAJThank you for having me, Kojo. I've been listening to you for so many years. I have the opportunity to speak to you today.
ELHAJMy question is concerning Guinea. How is Guinea participating in this fight? You know, the epicenter of this outbreak is in Gueckedou, Guinea. And most of the focus here in America is only on Sierra Leone and Liberia, as far as I know, you know. So I just wanted to discuss with your panel...
NNAMDIAre you yourself originally from Guinea Elhaj?
ELHAJI'm from Guinea, yes.
AKUETTEHYes. I think that's a great question. And I happen to know that, in fact, you know the U.S. help has come in two ways. What the CDC and USAID were doing before the president's surge early September. And in both of those cases on the USAID website and the CDC website, they have actually reached out into Guinea. They are not discriminating against Guinea at all. It seems to me that giving the language issue, newspapers that cover -- for instance, I've read a lot more stories about Liberia in the New York Times than any of the other countries.
AKUETTEHSo the news coverage may be skewed. But I happen to know that the U.S. help is going to all countries affected. And in fact, they are treating it originally because the virus doesn't respect borders. It started in Guinea, got into Sierra Leone and Liberia. Now we are hearing that it does go back into Guinea. So Guinea is not being discriminated against. It's just that the news coverage seems to make it appear so.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Nii Akuetteh is leader of the African Immigrant Caucuses Ebola Taskforce. Nii Akuetteh, thank you so much for joining us.
AKUETTEHThank you, Kojo. It's great to see you.
NNAMDIAnd Bishop Darlingston Johnson is senior pastor at Bethel World Outreach Church in Silver Spring. He is chairman of the steering committee of the African Immigrant Caucus. Bishop Johnson, thank you for joining us.
JOHNSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back it's Food Wednesday, the case of the disappearing dish, a behind-the-scenes look at how restaurants make changes to their menus. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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