As Ebola gripped Sierra Leone and Liberia, a Boeing 747 was being loaded at New York City’s JFK airport. Nearly 100 tons of supplies like exam gloves, face masks and bags of saline was onboard and bound for West Africa. These were just a small portion of the supplies to meet the annual needs of the approximately 280 health workers fighting Ebola in the region. The 370 pallets of supplies have a value of nearly $6 million and were provided by companies like 3M, Kimberly-Clark and Active Pharma, among others.

How did the medical supplies get from those donating companies and into the belly of the cargo plane? Direct Relief has been responsible for ensuring that the now 19 flights to epidemic-torn West Africa have arrived in the areas where they are most needed. Direct Relief, in a sense, connects the dots between donors and caregivers. When it absolutely has to be there, Direct Relief makes it happen.

Direct Relief fighting ebola outbreak
Direct Relief ensures all the safeguards are in place so those meds get into the hands of medical professionals and not profiteers.

Emergency Relief

In the past, survival rates for outbreaks of the Ebola virus ranged from 10 to 75 percent. The current survival rate is 50 percent. The disease is surreptitious. A mere drop of blood—a fifth of a teaspoon—from a patient infected with Ebola can contain 10 billion viral particles. One particle can potentially give you Ebola. Compare that to the last viral outbreak that had the world collectively holding their breath and wearing protective masks—HIV. In the same amount of blood from an HIV patient there are 50,000 to 10,000 particles. Similarly, Hepatitis C has 5 million to 20 million particles in an untreated person.

Direct Relief is able to provide immediate help because it stays in contact with local clinics. It understands what the need is and can respond immediately. Direct Relief also provides relief here in the U.S, as it’s the only non-profit licensed to distribute pharmaceuticals in all 50 states. Just think of the logistics to get pharmaceuticals to those in need. Not only are there strict laws and guidelines to distribute medicines, but there may be the need to have the meds shipped at certain temperatures. In international cases, where a shipment is delivered to a country that may have had its infrastructure disrupted due to a flood or earthquake, those drugs can be valuable commodities on the black market. Direct Relief ensures that all the safeguards are in place so that those meds get into the hands of medical professionals and not profiteers. This includes the use of RFID tags to track drug shipments.

“After Hurricane Sandy, for example,” said Tony Morain, communications director for Direct Relief, “we had pharmaceuticals sent to clinics that were helping those in need just like we did in Haiti and are doing in West Africa.”

Direct Relief fighting ebola outbreak
Direct Relief is able to provide immediate help because it stays in contact with local clinics. It understands what the need is and can respond immediately.

Global Threat

What was thought to be an epidemic localized to a few West African countries has now touched Europe and the U.S. The first victim in the U.S. to be claimed by the virus has made the epidemic a worldwide issue.

“The consequences of Ebola extend far beyond the lives that are lost,” said Morain. “Today in West Africa, far more people die of other diseases than Ebola, but all resources are being used to fight Ebola.” These are fragile health systems. There are few doctors on the ground, and now there are even fewer to help people sick from other diseases or aliments. “People might be fearful of a doctor or a hospital that treated Ebola patients. A pregnant woman may opt to have her baby at home,” said Morain. In such a situation, if complications arise, care would be difficult to get.

Another major threat is to economies. If West Africa is known to have had Ebola, people may chose to do business elsewhere for fear they may catch the disease. It can be as simple as not shopping with the local vendors. On a larger level, aircraft may not want to land in a country known to have Ebola, inadvertently shutting down visitor and commerce traffic. Ships won’t go into port to offload goods. People will avoid crowded places. “These countries can become isolated when they need to be anything but,” said Morain.
Homeland Security

The fear of the unknown—what the disease is and how it is spread and how it metastasizes—is what needs to be put in check. Direct Relief has been working with local partners in West Africa for several years, and since the outbreak it has sent 140 tons of supplies by air. In fact, on September 20, 2014, the organization sent the largest shipment supplies out of New York’s JFK airport on a chartered aircraft. No commercial flights were available.

Direct Relief fighting ebola outbreak
Getting donated supplies to those in need requires a network of organizations working in unison, which InterAction helps provide.

Direct Relief’s partner on the ground in West Africa use an online ordering system so the needed supplies are routed to the correct location. When there is an outpouring of donations from individuals and corporations, it is not a matter of simply dropping off the supplies in the country, but funneling them in so the supply chain works. After Hurricane Katrina, Direct Relief, among other organizations, saw that there was a similar need in the United States.

Approximately one in every 13 people in the U.S. uses a free medical clinic. Even people with some health insurance use these non-profit clinics. Direct Relief has relationships with over 1,300 clinics across the U.S, and its emergency preparedness initiative stores substantial modules of medical resources needed during an emergency. These modules are weatherproof so if a clinic is flooded, supplies stay pristine. Think of the modules as a 72-hour bug-out bag for the clinics. The organization also maps vulnerable populations so if a hurricane is forecast, Direct Relief can be ready with a rapid response. As Direct Relief’s Morain said, “The worst time to plan for a disaster is when you are in one.”

In the case of Ebola, the need for donations is ongoing. This need increases the longer the outbreak goes, although donations typically drop off shortly after an event. The virus is now a world crisis, and as Direct Relief’s Morain said, it’s important for people to stay engaged and care about it.

For More Information

To learn more about Direct Relief and to find out ways you can get involved, visit or call 800-676-1638.

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