Newspaper article International New York Times

In Liberia, the Work for Ambulances Never Stops ; about 15 Crews Available in Capital, Where Ebola Cases Constantly Multiply

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Liberia, the Work for Ambulances Never Stops ; about 15 Crews Available in Capital, Where Ebola Cases Constantly Multiply

Article excerpt

Only about 15 ambulance teams are available to aid Monrovia, the capital, where hundreds of new Ebola cases are reported each week.

Racing along cracked and bumpy roads here, Gordon Kamara shouted into his cellphone over the shrieking sirens of his ambulance. The phone had been ringing nonstop since 5 a.m.

"Not today! Not today!" Mr. Kamara, an ambulance nurse, yelled later in the day. "We are on the opposite side of town!"

The calls have all been the same in recent weeks: from friends, friends of friends, extended family, complete strangers. All of them have loved ones sick with Ebola and beg him to come quickly. Seven days a week, Mr. Kamara and his crew span Monrovia, Liberia's capital, in a donated, old American ambulance -- with California license plates still attached.

"It never stops," said Mr. Kamara, getting another call the moment he hangs up.

The 15 or so ambulance teams bolting around the city have had many days of hard choices like this. Hundreds of new Ebola cases are reported each week in Monrovia, with many more never accounted for. And over the course of the epidemic, only a small percentage of them have ever made it to a hospital.

"We see it flow through the communities; first one, then many," Mr. Kamara said. "The map is being painted red with the virus."

To confront the spread of Ebola, some community groups have stepped in, motivated by altruism, desperation and, in some cases, political opportunism.

In some neighborhoods, teams of volunteers fan out to track victims and educate households on staving off the virus, though their pockets are so shallow that they often do not have enough supplies, like chlorine, to thwart the epidemic's advance.

Mr. Kamara does not work for the government. He does not even have a dispatcher to tell him where to go or which patients to pick up. Instead, his team is financed by an opposition member of Parliament, Saah H. Joseph, who imported two used American ambulances to Monrovia this year.

At the end of a recent 15-hour shift, Mr. Kamara took his final patient of the night, a 17-year-old girl, to an Ebola treatment center. Wrought with fever, she had stripped off her clothes in the back of the ambulance and had fallen off the stretcher, lying twisted and barely conscious on the floor. …

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