An American doctor who survived an Ebola infection he contracted in Liberia will return to the West African country next month, he said on Tuesday. Dr. Richard Sacra, 51, will head back to the country, where the deadly virus remains a serious threat to residents, to continue his medical missionary work in the region.
The Holden, Massachusetts, native was treated at Nebraska Medical Center in September after testing positive for Ebola during his trip to Liberia. He was deemed “Ebola-free” and released from the hospital on Sept. 25.
Dr. Sacra, a family physician who was helping Ebola-stricken pregnant women when he became infected with the disease, in October said he would return to the West African country to help the region’s devastated health care system.
Also on Tuesday, Massachusetts officials made public a $1 million grant to help develop a quick, finger-prick test for the deadly virus, The Boston Globe reported. Dr. Sacra, who appeared at the press conference, said the medical tool would decrease the time health officials in West Africa must wait to obtain results from far-off laboratories.
American doctors and nurses, along with representatives from humanitarian groups, have been traveling to West Africa since the crisis began escalating in spring of this year. Some U.S. states have imposed mandatory quarantines on returning medical personnel, but federal health officials have called for less severe measures.
The largest Ebola outbreak in history has affected thousands of people throughout the region since March, when 49 cases were first detected in Guinea. More than 6,000 people have died worldwide from the disease, according to the World Health Organization, which adds that there is widespread under-reporting.
Thomas Eric Duncan was the first Ebola patient to die on American soil. Two nurses who treated Duncan — Amber Vinson and Nina Pham — contracted the virus after caring for him. They were both deemed “virus-free” and released from hospitals in October. Another infected patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, was released from Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City last month after being cleared of the deadly disease.
In November, billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates committed to pledging $5.7 million in the fight against the deadly virus. The philanthropists said they are searching for a way to enhance the treatment of infected patients with a variety of research projects, including funding tests on experimental drugs and collecting blood plasma from Ebola survivors for use in treating victims in West Africa.