Fred Hartman

 {Photo credit: Fred Hartman/MSH}Dr. Logan and two women Ebola survivors at Annex 3.Photo credit: Fred Hartman/MSH

Tuesday, November 4, was my first day back at MSH headquarters since returning from Liberia nearly three weeks ago on October 21. I volunteered to go to Liberia—one of three West African countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak—because MSH has a wealth of experience to offer to help resolve one of the great public health challenges of our time. 

I started my career in smallpox eradication, and through the years have worked on other outbreaks: hemorrhagic fevers, SARS, avian and pandemic influenza, and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB).  These diseases were—and are—highly infectious and carry significant mortality if proper infection control procedures are not followed.

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World Malaria Day 2013 {Photo credit: UNHCR/S. Hoibak.}Photo credit: UNHCR/S. Hoibak.

To me, malaria is a very personal disease.

I first came face to face with malaria during the war of my time: Vietnam. I was plucked out of residency after my first year, with only an internship under my belt, and sent as a Navy Medical Officer to war. Medical school and residency prepared me well for much of the trauma I encountered medically, but I was totally unprepared for the large-scale emotional trauma, and for the tropical diseases I had encountered only in books.

I was overwhelmed by the young children with malaria, some of whom literally died in my arms while treating them.  Yet, I also witnessed bona fide miracles: children at death’s door, comatose and unresponsive, who responded dramatically to treatments, and ultimately went home to their families.

To address malaria, I focused on promoting prevention (long-lasting insecticidal nets [LLINS] for families and intermittent preventive treatment [IPT] for pregnant women), early detection, and early treatment in the community—what is now called community case management.

That was 40 years ago.

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