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U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power Sees Signs Of Hope In West Africa

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power had her temperature taken as she arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Reuters /Landov
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power had her temperature taken as she arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, just returned from a four-day trip to all three of West Africa's Ebola-stricken countries. Speaking with Melissa Block of All Things Considered, she said she saw promising signs of recovery but had also gained a sense of just how much work must still be done.

In Liberia, Power was struck by the gratitude expressed to the United States for "rescuing these countries in their hour of greatest need."

A Liberian told her: "America is the only country that is treating us like we are Nina Pham [the Dallas nurse recently declared Ebola-free]. America is hugging us like President Obama hugged Nina Pham."

The U.S. has deployed 3,000 ground troops to help construct 17 Ebola treatment units in Liberia, and Power said the effect is already noticeable. She visited a medical laboratory six hours away from the capital, Monrovia, where the assistance of U.S. troops had helped cut the wait time for results of an Ebola test from a week to just a few hours. This means fewer people will become infected by spending days waiting with already diagnosed Ebola patients to find out their diagnosis. And more beds will be available for those who actually have the disease.

"The morale of everyone associated with the anti-Ebola effort is increasing, and the recruitment of local workers was increasing," Power said. "The knowledge that there are more beds has all these knock-on effects." People are more likely to "come forward and be a hygienist or a sanitation worker knowing there will be a place for [them] if protocol is breached" and they fall ill.

She also saw better safety precautions resulting from improved training efforts. And employees and volunteers are sticking with assignments longer.

But Power says these promising signs aren't reflected evenly across the infection zone. Efforts in Monrovia and Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, still need to be replicated outside these central cities, especially in rural areas where the disease continues to spread:

"It does show you what can be scaled, if you have the resources, if you have the international health workers, if you have the helicopters to get to the more distant areas."

Power, who didn't interact with patients or enter an Ebola treatment unit, was screened when she arrived back in the U.S., then allowed to leave the airport. She will be taking her temperature twice a day for 21 days and calling it in to state health workers.

She supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggestions for returning health care workers: They should visit a doctor who can approve them to return to daily life as long as they continue to monitor their temperature. She also warned against measures that would discourage health care workers from working in the Ebola zone.

"The way we will keep the American people safe is we will contribute to ending Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and we will mobilize the world to do the same," she said. "Anything that deters or discourages or stigmatizes workers who are part of that solution ... is something we want to avoid."

And she paid respect to the foreign health care workers who have come to help: "We are going out of the way to remind everybody ... of the heroism being exhibited by doctors and nurses who have traveled to these countries."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff