An American physician cured of Ebola said Tuesday that he’s returning to Liberia, the West African country where he contracted the virus, in January to resume working at a medical mission.
Dr. Rick Sacra said that he plans to spend four weeks at ELWA Hospital, a clinic outside Monrovia where he contracted the deadly virus in August.
Sacra spent weeks in treatment at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha before returning home on Sept. 25. The University of Massachusetts Medical School faculty member has worked in medical missions in Liberia for more than 20 years, including the North Carolina-based charity SIM, which founded ELWA Hospital.
Sacra said he is “feeling well physically” and that doctors have said he’s now effectively immune to Ebola, which has no approved vaccines or treatments.
On his return to Liberia, Sacra will not be working in ELWA’s Ebola clinic, but will treat patients with malaria and other chronic health issues, as well as provide maternity and pediatrics care — desperately-needed services with so few hospitals available.
“My physician colleagues are working very hard, keeping ELWA Hospital open for a wide range of patients, as well as managing Ebola patients at the ELWA 2 unit,” Sacra said in a statement. “I hope to be able to lighten their load, providing both compassionate care to our patients, as well as contributing in some small way to rebuilding and refreshing the staff, which has been through so much in the past six months.”
Sacra has said in the past he’s not sure exactly when he became infected during his time at ELWA Hospital. He had been caring for pregnant women not suspected to have Ebola and delivering babies, including performing several cesarean sections. After he fell ill, the hospital changed its protocols to add extra precautions. Now, physicians “wear full protective gear … for deliveries” and get “bleached down at the end,” Sacra said.
ELWA Hospital, which stands for Eternal Love Winning Africa, became a model for other hospitals in West Africa during the Ebola crisis, developing treatment facilities, screening processes and offering other critical care medical services when other facilities were shutting down. It was recently recognized by Time Magazine, which featured several ELWA physicians among the “Ebola Fighters” honored with the title of Time’s 2014’s “Person of the Year.”
Sacra, who expressed a desire to return to Liberia almost as soon as he recovered, made the comments following a Tuesday news conference at the Statehouse announcing a $1 million state grant to help develop a faster, more accurate test for diagnosing Ebola.