Ngadi Kamara: an Ebola heroine?
A Bermuda resident could end up being the saviour Ebola-ravaged Sierra Leone needs.
Ngadi Kamara’s charity, Sierra Leone Action, is taking convalescent serum therapy to the African nation. It’s claimed people with Ebola in the US have gotten better after being treated with it.
CST uses blood from people who have survived the disease to help those who have it.
Sierra Leone has reported 9,780 cases of Ebola, and 2,943 deaths, since last March.
Ms Kamara, a native of Sierra Leone, said she got tired of waiting for a miracle to happen and decided to make one of her own.
“My sister, Natu, lives in Freetown, the capital,” said the 42-year-old. “There is Ebola there. I also have numerous other family members in Sierra Leone. It has not yet directly impacted them, but if the disease continues to grow it is only a matter of time. I wanted to do something.”
Ms Kamara has lived in Bermuda for 17 years and is a project manager by trade. She sent food and supplies when Ebola first broke out in her home country, but wanted to do more.
“I came across information about CST,” she said. “It is a common approach with infectious disease management. It can help people with it to develop their own immunity to the disease. There is quite a large pool of survivors, so survivor blood is something that can be used right away.”
She learned that CST wasn’t being used in Sierra Leone through discussions with a Sierra Leonean doctor in the US. The therapy has been used in several high profile cases in the United States and the United Kingdom. Rick Sacra, an American doctor infected while volunteering in Liberia, received CST and survived.
It’s still considered experimental as researchers didn’t include control groups when it was used. It’s uncertain whether Dr Sacra was cured by CST or a drug he received.
Some patients have recovered without CST or drugs.
The World Health Organisation was initially reluctant to approve CST for use in Africa because it was experimental. It also worried that blood used might be infected by other diseases, such as HIV. However the severity of the epidemic led the organisation to allow some experimental therapies. Priority was given to CST, as WHO thought it the most promising.
“There is one other charity pushing for CST therapy in Sierra Leone, but SLA has made the most progress,” Ms Kamara said.
A German company, Fresenius Kabi, gave them the nudge with a donation of nine apheresis machines. Each is worth about $50,000.
“These machines allow you to get the blood and separate out the plasma that we need,” she said. “The blood can then be given back to the donor. This allows someone to make multiple donations over a period of weeks, compared to whole blood, where you can only make a donation every two months. With this machine we can create more doses of the serum over a shorter period of time and help more patients.”
SLA is training medical personnel in Freetown in preparation for administering the serum at Hastings Treatment Center, and others.
The charity is now fundraising to move forward with their work. It costs about $30 to inject one person with the serum, but there are also maintenance, training and transportation costs.
Bermy Cuisine owner Horace Tucker donated $500 to SLA. He’d visited Sierra Leone before the epidemic struck.
“We are very grateful to him,” said Ms Kamara.
She added: “It is very concerning having family still there. They take certain precautions, but it can be very random. You don’t know who you are going to come into contact with and who they have come into contact with. Life tends to go on, and you still have to go to the grocery store and the market. It is a concern.
Her sister, Natu, works in a family-run hotel that hosts medical volunteers from other countries.
“It is a risk,” said Ms Kamara. “From talking to my friends and people who are there, it is very real and they have had to change their lifestyle. It can become very stressful. A lot of friends say it is so hard living day to day with the threat of Ebola. They want to go back to the way things were a year ago, but the reality is that they can’t and they have to take precautions. It is really tough.”
Schools in the country have been closed to help stop the spread of the disease. Ms Kamara’s mother, Aliea, is still hoping to open Hope Academy for Girls — a school for underprivileged children she built with donations from people in Bermuda. With no sign of the school closure being lifted, she’s living in England.
The outbreak of Ebola began early last year in Guinea, West Africa, and quickly spread to neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.
According to the World Health Organisation there have been 21,206 reported suspected cases and 8,386 deaths from the disease as of January 3.
The number of infected people is going down in Liberia, but continues to rise in Sierra Leone and Guinea.
According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these outbreaks of Ebola are the largest and most complex in the history of the disease.