This past Friday evening, I was privileged enough to attend a local talk given by ebola survivor Dr. Rick Sacra. He was the third American doctor that contracted the ebola virus while working in a West African country. Dr. Sacra spoke highly of the ELWA Hospital that he oversees, in Liberia’s capital city Monrovia. The hospital was originally built in the year 1951 by missionaries. They have an Ebola specialist onsite, as well as a 50 bed facility for patients. It is the facility in Liberia for patients being transported for critical care, due to the ebola virus.
He spoke of the vast spread of the disease due to the uninformed general public, the remote and difficult terrain to reach villagers in Liberia, and the initial response of medical staff to treat any patient that walked in the door. The hospital medical staff now uses protective gear, regardless of the medical procedure, even during the delivery of a baby. Other staff members assist them with their protective gear removal and subsequent disinfecting with bleach.
The doctor also talked about misconceptions and irrational fears that some of the general public still harbor to this day. He stressed the fact that the illness can only be spread by bodily fluids such as blood or saliva and direct contact with eyes, mouth, or broken skin. Another fact that he mentioned is that none of the relatives became ill, after the infected Americans arrived back in the USA. Even being in close proximity to an infected person, will not spread the disease, as long as no bodily fluids are exchanged.
His talk culminated with an encouraging amount of new information! Several medications and a couple of vaccines will be transported to Africa soon. They hope to be a positive step towards the fight of Ebola.
The general population in Liberia is being reached by ELWA’s radio station which is broadcasting a program by ebola survivors. The survivors respond to questions and share information about the virus, its causes, and how to go about their daily life in order to avoid it. More and more people in western African have been informed to not touch the body of anyone who has succumbed to the disease. This information is helping to halt the progression of ebola. Debbie Sacra, Dr. Sacra’s wife also spoke highly of the hospital and of their beloved Liberia.
A question and answer session with Dr. Sacra followed his talk. I specifically asked him questions pertaining to travel and the mass hysteria of the media and the global population, in regards to traveling to Africa at this point in time. His first response was that no one should delay or cancel a trip to an African safari in East Africa due to the ebola crisis in the western African countries of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. He stated that the distance from Liberia to Kenya is just about as far as the distance from Anchorage, Alaska to Houston, Texas in the United States! In other words, the African continent is huge and one should not worry or fear travel to the eastern part of the continent, due to what is occurring on its western coast! Likewise goes for western African countries, such as Ghana that do not border those three countries. Additionally, Ghana does not currently have an outbreak of the disease.
The distance factor between ebola-stricken countries and the rest of Africa, the fact that many African countries are not in the middle of an outbreak themselves, and the fact that the disease can only be spread by direct contact with bodily fluids(not airborne) should be sufficient proof that travelers should continue to travel and tourists should continue to book tours!
The ELWA hospital in Liberia and its brave and caring physicians are doing amazing work treating ebola patients. They appreciate financial contributions to keep the medical supplies and treatments ongoing. I feel honored to have attended this talk by Dr. Sacra. He alleviated any concerns that I may have had regarding travels to the African continent at this point in time.
Given the health info that was shared, why not plan an amazing vacation to an African country?! Prior to your holiday, you could sample some of the local African foods in your own city! Fortunately for me, there are restaurants offering many international cuisines in my home state of Massachusetts, here in the United States!
I found an East African restaurant in a local city near my home. The restaurant serves food representing the countries of Uganda and Tanzania. I opted for a delicious plate of cornmeal, beans, cassava, plantains, spinach and carrots, and sweet potatoes with a peanut sauce. My beverage of mixed fruit juice was a nice complement to the meal.
For my next African meal, I visited an outdoor African festival in Boston, Massachusetts. My entree included collard greens, spinach in coconut milk, tomato and onion salad, and jollof rice. The rice dish is popular in both East and West African cuisine. What a wonderful meal it was!
Next up was my visit to a local Senegalese restaurant. I selected the nem fried spring rolls filled with veggies, as my appetizer, served with a dipping sauce. For a main course, I chose the traditional mafe veggie stew in a peanut sauce base, with a side of rice. My dinner was superb!
For my final dab into authentic African cuisine, I dined at a Nigerian restaurant in Boston. I chose the fufu with a veggie stew in a peanut sauce base. Fufu is a staple food in West Africa. It is made by boiling a starchy crop and pounding it into a dough-like texture. Fufu is dipped into the stew then eaten. The fufu I ordered was made with pounded yams. The spicy stew was quite flavorful!
Given the health and safety information that Dr. Sacra shared at his talk, there is no reason why anyone should avoid traveling to uninfected countries such as Tanzania in East Africa or Ghana in West Africa. The fascinating culture and music, the scenic landscapes, the incredible wildlife, and the amazing African food that I sampled locally, should be incentive enough to want to plan a visit to the African continent!