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World

American Doctor In Libera Calls U.S. Ebola Response Plan 'Outstanding'

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

For more on those treatment centers and how President Obama's new plan could work, we reached Doctor Timothy Flanigan in the Liberian capital. He's an infectious disease doctor with Brown University medical school, and he's in Monrovia training healthcare workers on how to function safely in an Ebola epidemic. Doctor Flanigan was critical of the earlier U.S. plan to build a 25-bed field hospital. He called that hardly a drop in the bucket. Now he's on board.

TIMOTHY FLANIGAN: I think the plan is outstanding. The plan, as I heard, was for 17 units, each with 100 beds which is, I think, the right way to do it. Once you have good Ebola treatment capacity, then that allows the regular health sector to open back up again.

Right now clinics and health centers and hospitals are struggling terribly because if they have a patient with Ebola, it's extraordinarily difficult to treat those patients safely. So patients who are suspected of having Ebola need to go to Ebola treatment units, that allows other patients that have pneumonia or might have had a car accident or a woman who is pregnant and in labor - it allows them to get the healthcare that they need.

BLOCK: When you think, Doctor Flanigan, about how much is unknown about how widely Ebola will spread, what gives you the confidence that 1,700 beds is enough to turn the tide - contain the epidemic?

FLANIGAN: Well, Ebola is so fearful because the mortality and the severity of the disease is so bad. But Ebola spreads when someone is very ill. If you go right now to the markets, you don't get Ebola from walking down the street with tons of other people. I go to church every day, and plenty of other folks are there. And there's a no-touch policy which is good, but you don't get Ebola by being next to somebody in church.

It's just not like other viruses like influenza. You know, influenza unfortunately spreads before you're sick. And so therefore when we get a new strain of influenza that comes in, the infection is hugely widespread - almost nothing you can do except vaccination. Ebola spreads when you're very ill. So if you can get patients with suspected Ebola into the healthcare setting, then that stops transmission in the community.

BLOCK: What are you hearing from the Liberian healthcare workers that you're working with and helping to train about this news and the increased aid that's going to be coming?

FLANIGAN: They are so grateful. First of all, I take my hat off to the healthcare workers I was with this afternoon. They operate a small clinic, and they have always done it under difficult conditions with limited supplies. They recognize there is a danger. They have stayed open.

Just yesterday they had a patient who was an Ebola suspect patient, and they were able to have him be in isolation. But they called the Ebola team, and it took many, many hours for the patient to be transferred, showing how overwhelmed the current system is. Having the additional support and beds is a big help.

Everyone knows that it will take a month or two for this to translate into really help on the ground in a specific neighborhood. But knowing that that help is coming gives such hope.

BLOCK: Well, Doctor Flanigan, thanks very much for talking with us.

FLANIGAN: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Doctor Timothy Flanigan with Brown University medical school speaking with us from Monrovia, Liberia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.