More PIH Clinicians Fighting Ebola Transported Back to U.S.

Following one confirmed case, the Boston-based nonprofit group evacuates additional clinicians.

partners in health

Ebola Treatment Unit in Sierra Leone operated by Partners in Health. / Photo by Rebecca E. Rollins via Partners in Health

Update, March 19, 11 a.m.:

More clinicians have returned to the U.S. for monitoring. The number of American clinicians who have been evacuated from Sierra Leone by Boston-based Partners in Health now stands at 17. One has tested positive for the virus and remains in critical condition. The 16 others are being monitored for symptoms near specialized treatment centers.


Partners in Health has brought home an additional 10 clinicians who were working to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone. None has tested positive for the virus, and the group said the decision was made out of an “abundance of caution.” (As previously disclosed, I worked for Partners in Health before joining Boston.)

The move follows last week’s news that one of PIH’s U.S. clinicians had tested positive for the virus and was transferred to a National Institutes of Health facility in Maryland. On Monday, the NIH announced that the patient’s status worsened from serious to critical.

The 10 clinicians who were transported back to the United States were identified as potential contacts “who came to the aid of their ailing colleague” while in Sierra Leone, according to a statement from PIH. They will stay near specialized treatment facilities that are equipped to provide immediate care should one of them present symptoms or test positive for the virus. These facilities are in Nebraska, Atlanta, and Maryland.

While it is concerning that the NIH changed the patient’s status to critical, it should be noted that an American has not died as a result of the current outbreak. Thomas Eric Duncan, the man who died while in care at a Dallas hospital, was Liberian and had trouble accessing and receiving care in a timely fashion.

PIH cofounder Dr. Paul Farmer has expressed concerns over the disparity in care and has argued that aggressively treating Ebola in West Africa could dramatically improve the survival rate. “Not a single American has died of Ebola; the majority of Europeans infected have survived; a Cuban survivor is already back here at work. Across West Africa, 70 percent of those afflicted die. And that figure applies only to the sick who receive care at treatment centers: More than 90 percent of those who stay home perish,” Farmer wrote in a recent opinion piece.

The identity of the patient undergoing treatment for Ebola in Maryland has not been disclosed. Farmer told the Globe that the clinician had been working in Sierra Leone for 16 days, and that he had recently accepted the “job of his dreams” at a U.S. hospital, but delayed the start date to help fight the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

A total of 10,144 people have died from Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea as of Monday, according to the World Health Organization.