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VOL. 129 | NO. 166 | Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Women of Hope CEO Fights Ebola in Sierra Leone

By Don Wade

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A war does not occur in a vacuum, and neither does a health crisis, such as the Ebola virus now spreading through West Africa. Kim Kargbo knows this too well.

Kim Kargbo, president and CEO of Women of Hope International, is going to Sierra Leone, where she will help educate people about the Ebola virus and distribute supplies and treatment. 


Kargbo, 47, president and CEO of Memphis-based Women of Hope International, is to leave for Sierra Leone on Tuesday, Aug. 26. Kargbo was raised there by parents serving as missionaries, and she also worked there in the 1990s and 2000s amid the country’s decade-long civil war.

“This situation is very similar to when the war was ramping up,” she said. “Even when this health crisis is resolved, we will see it has rocked Sierra Leone’s infrastructure.”

Five years ago, Women of Hope International began a project in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province serving women with disabilities. The Ebola virus is, for now, more concentrated in the Eastern Province.

But Kargbo remembers the civil war started far from the Northern Province too. And there are Ebola cases in the Northern Province now.

Kargbo will work alongside Samaritan’s Purse to distribute supplies and treatment, but she and Women of Hope’s 11-person staff based in Sierra Leone also will spend much time trying to educate people about Ebola.

“It mirrors the AIDS crisis of the 1980s,” she said. “Similar transmission and there’s a stigma attached to it. Those who have had the virus and recovered are finding it difficult to reintegrate into their communities.”

Kargbo is hoping that challenge eventually will be helped by the recovery of two Americans, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, both recently released from Emory Hospital in Atlanta and said to be cured of the virus.

Dr. Bruce Ribner, director of Emory’s Infectious Disease Unit, said the release of Writebol and Brantly posed no public health hazard. Brantly contracted the deadly virus, which has killed upwards of 1,225 people, in Liberia. The World Health Organization has said that Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have the most cases.

Ribner also said in an interview with ABC News: “There is no evidence that once a patient has cleared the virus from their body that they will relapse.”

Kargbo, who is a nurse, says she has minimal worry about contracting the virus; she won’t be personally treating patients on this trip and the virus is not easily communicated.

“Ebola transmission is blood and body fluids,” she said. “It’s not caught by being in the same room with somebody. It’s not airborne.”

Rather, Kargbo’s chief concern is that the Ebola crisis, which already has created a need for food and supplies amid panic, will hinder their ability to serve their target audience: women with disabilities.

“One of the reasons Ebola is spreading is people don’t believe it’s a real thing,” she said, adding that many people do believe the stories circulating that the Ebola treatment centers are actually places where organs are harvested for the black market or part of a political operation.

“Because of that, there’s a lot of fear,” she said.

But hope is not out of the equation. Sierra Leone has dealt with tragedy before, and, Kargbo said, “The people of Sierra Leone are pretty resilient.”

Want to help nonprofit Women of Hope International in its ongoing health education and prevention mission in Sierra Leone? Visit womenofhopeinternational.org/ebola to donate online.

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