Dr. Dan Kelly, the UC San Francisco clinician who has traveled to Sierra Leone nearly a half-dozen times since the worst Ebola outbreak in history began in West Africa earlier this year, is more hopeful than ever before that the deadly virus can be eradicated.
“I'm seeing progress on the ground that makes me hopeful in the next six months or so we'll get Ebola stomped out,” Kelly told The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday, a day after he returned to The City from Sierra Leone.
Kelly's most recent trip focused on program management rather than patient care. Therefore, he said he is not required to follow California's order issued in late October that calls for anyone who traveled to an Ebola-affected area and had contact with a confirmed Ebola patient to be quarantined for 21 days.
As of Friday, nearly 5,000 people had died from Ebola, more than 1,100 of whom were in Sierra Leone, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the Kono District of Sierra Leone where Kelly spent about two weeks of his monthlong visit, he helped implement an infection prevention and control program at the district's main Ebola treatment center, the Koidu Government Hospital.
The Kono District — which has seen about 50 Ebola cases and has a population of about a half-million people — is among the regions lacking in aid compared to higher-transmission areas, such as Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown, that have seen “a dramatic influx of resources” to combat Ebola, Kelly said.
While in Sierra Leone, Kelly helped train 50 villagers to be health care workers as part of the infection prevention and control program at Koidu hospital. The villagers' roles include identifying potential Ebola patients within rural communities and teaching other villagers how to care for loved ones who become ill.
Kelly also worked with Ebola survivors. Because they are theoretically immune to the virus upon recovery, Ebola survivors can help clean Ebola wards and transport possible patients to hospitals.
“They're providing an additional level of support and [are] somewhat of a backbone,” he added.
Though he said there is still plenty of work to be done to repair the country's health system, Kelly is encouraged by the improvements he's seen in recent months.
“I'm coming away from the trip much more hopeful than I've been on prior trips,” Kelly said. “I'm seeing a lot of momentum and things being put into place so people can come and actually take care of patients and we can actually stop the epidemic.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Phuoc Le of UC San Francisco arrived in Liberia last week where he is teaching infection control training to doctors and nurses.
To donate to UCSF's fight against Ebola, visit www.ucsf.edu/ebola.