By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A University of Pennsylvania doctor who did two missions in Liberia during the Ebola epidemic will share her story tonight as part of a program looking at the world’s response to infectious diseases.
Dr. Patricia Henwood spent a total of 10 weeks in Liberia. First in Bong County, an epicenter of the outbreak for five weeks beginning in October, and then another five weeks beginning in January as the epidemic slowed.
“It was a very challenging experience for me, just in terms of the lives lost,” she says.
Henwood is trained to tackle global disease and has spend considerable time in East Africa bringing ultrasound technology to low-tech hospitals. But the work in West Africa was quite different. She worked at International Medical Corps Hospitals in simple hospital structures that served hundreds of patients. Earlier on she tackled local stigma, a 50% death rate, and the reality of staying healthy.
“We were very, very meticulous in terms of always adhering to the protocols we had in place to adhere to in order to stay safe,” says Henwood. “We knew we could only help if we could keep ourselves and our staff safe — it was a little different than when I work in the ER and I am only focused on our patients’ safety.”
But thanks to hundreds of brave local volunteers, rumors ended and more and more locals began to come to get treatment.
“They were amazing, a very dedicated staff,” says Henwood, who noted that many Liberians equated Ebola with infection and death.
“It was exhausting – really long days, but one of those things where you just get up the next day and know there’s a big job to be done,” she says. “It was environmentally tough, but overall I am grateful I could use my medical training and global experience to help.”
The early experience was so fulfilling, Henwood returned to Liberia earlier this year — this time to Marigbi County. There was a big change – life was getting back to normal. Those volunteers who helped stop the outbreak are now armed to stop a similar outbreak in the future.
“Now they’re trained to help make a difference in their own community,” says Henwood.
And now Henwood will share her experiences in Liberia and the lessons learned. The lecture takes place at International House, 3701 Chestnut Street at 6:00 PM. A reception will follow.
Listen to the full podcast with Dr. Patricia Henwood.