Dispatches from the Hot Zone

Joining the fight against the Ebola epidemic

Williams College alumnus Garrett Ingoglia ’92 has witnessed the broad spectrum of human suffering and loss in the course of a decade-plus career working in humanitarian relief and disaster response and recovery. But when he headed to Liberia last fall into the midst of a raging Ebola epidemic, he encountered a fear that he could only describe as existential. “When we got on the ground, it was just ramping up to the height of the crisis,” he says. “Infection was increasing at an exponential rate.” The question on everyone’s minds, Ingoglia says: “Is this ever going to stop?”

As vice president of emergency response for the humanitarian-aid nonprofit AmeriCares, Ingoglia was in West Africa to lead the development, coordination and implementation of an Ebola-response strategy for his organization. He was one of several Ephs who have been part of the fight against the worst Ebola outbreak in history. Emergency physician Hernando Garzon ’84 deployed with the International Medical Corps to help establish treatment centers and train health care workers in Sierra Leone. Physician-turned-journalist Richard Besser ’81, an infectious-disease specialist, reported for ABC News from several regions in the hot zone on just how serious the epidemic had become. And as director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Food for Peace, Dina Esposito ’83 oversaw her office’s efforts to help battle a hunger crisis—touched off by the social and economic disruptions of Ebola—that would threaten more than a million West Africans.

All played a part in the extraordinary international effort to chase a deadly, untreatable virus that had spun frighteningly out of control.

“…if you haven’t gone through the protocols needed to enter the hot zone, you can be five feet from someone who is crashing, and you can’t do anything.”

In December 2013, a toddler died in the West African country of Guinea. He came to be known as Patient Zero. Soon after, his sister, mother and grandmother died from the same illness. Then someone from another village, who attended the grandmother’s funeral, died. Next came the deaths of a health care worker who had treated the mourner and a doctor in another town who had treated the health care worker.

By March 2014, 29 people had died, and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an official declaration: Ebola haemorrhagic fever—a highly infectious disease transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids and secretions of the sick and the dead—had broken out in West Africa.

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