CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Dr. John Fankhauser was quarantined for three weeks after returning to the United States from West Africa where an Ebola outbreak has killed thousands of people. But as soon as his isolation was over, he began making plans to return for the third time.
Dr. Dan Crawford has spent a good part of his career doing medical missionary work. By the end of this week, the 64-year-old doctor from Portland, Oregon, and Fankhauser will head to the Liberian capital of Monrovia to help Ebola-stricken patients and others seeking medical help.
The doctors are volunteers with Charlotte-based SIM USA, a Christian mission group that operates a 200-bed hospital in Monrovia, as well as a 50-bed isolation unit for Ebola patients.
Both said Tuesday they are going because there is still a need for doctors and health care workers.
"I don't want to discount the fact that there are many, many people volunteering," said the 52-year-old Fankhauser of Ventura, California, who has treated many Ebola patients this year at SIM's ELWA hospital in Monrovia, including two U.S. doctors and one U.S. health care worker. "But there is still a shortage of people and health care workers who are willing to come — in particular people who are willing to come for three months, six months."
And while there are enough doctors treating Ebola patients, there is a shortage of health care workers to treat illnesses such as malaria, typhoid, trauma, and complicated pregnancies, Fankhauser and Crawford said.
"One of the biggest concerns is the fact that all the hospitals in Liberia ... were closed at the height of the Ebola crisis," Crawford said. "So patients with other diseases were not being treated at all."
He said he knows there is a risk, but said he volunteered for a three-month tour, along with his wife, Kathy, because people need help.
"You just feel like we have so much here in the United States available to us, not only medically but in other ways: materially and spiritually. We just feel like it's a calling to go and share those things with the people around the world who don't have as much as we do," said Crawford, who has made dozens of medical missionary trips.
SIM President Bruce Johnson says the two doctors embody the spirit of International Volunteer Day, which is Friday. The day was established by the United Nations nearly 30 years ago to celebrate volunteerism around the globe.
"Since the start of the Ebola outbreak, we have seen numerous people make the decision to go in at great personal sacrifice and provide critical care," Johnson said.
Medical missionary organizations have said they are concerned that the mandatory quarantines several states have put in place for medical workers returning from three West African countries will stop some medical workers from volunteering.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people who are at highest risk for coming down with Ebola avoid commercial travel or attending large public gatherings, even if they have no symptoms.
The World Health Organization says the disease has killed nearly 6,000 people in West Africa. The virus is spread by direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, not through casual contact.
"Like so many issues, it's tough to parse out what is it that deters some people from volunteering," said Fankhauser, who has been quarantined twice. He was in Monrovia in June when the hospital saw its first Ebola case. When Fankhauser returned to the United States in August, he was isolated at SIM headquarters. He returned to Liberia after Labor Day, and when he came back to the United States on Nov. 8, he was again quarantined at the sprawling SIM campus.
"I understand the need to quarantine ... but it does have the potential to deter people from responding to the crisis," he said.
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