Tale of Deplorable Means and Deadly Ends
- Emergency, a Surgical NGO run by Drs Gino Strada and Gina Portella, was funded by UKaid to operate a Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone despite their lack of experience in treating tropical diseases
- British volunteers lodge their concerns with the National Health Service regarding the NGO’s grievous malpractices, including liberal use of amiodorane, diuretics and anesthetics
- Emergency deliberately administered amiodorane - an infamous drug used to treat heart rhythmic disorders – to Ebola patients, with fatal results.
“The health of my patient will be my first consideration.” Extracted from the 1948 Geneva Declaration of World Medical Association …
Every Hollywood movie director shunned this fictional script, saying the plot seemed plagiarised from Dworet and Pool’s 1995 medical disaster film, Outbreak. But before the money men moved on, some unknown directors raised their hands to take the challenge. Our report is unfortunately not a work of fiction – a Italian medical NGO operating in Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone seems to have made a real scene adapted from Outbreak, and with funding from UK aid, an agency of the Department for International Development (DfID).
As early as March 2014 organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) had sounded an Ebola alarm that was largely ignored. The collective reaction was ‘as long as it is not affecting us, it does not and should not be our problem’. The MSF team soldiered on. Two deaths here, another fifty there, then hundreds. It took the World Health Organisation another five months to declare Ebola an international public health emergency.
The timing of the declaration could be linked to an event on 27 July. On that day two Americans, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, tested positive for Ebola. Cultureless and stateless, the virus had began crossing borders and infecting indiscriminately.
From Africa to Europe and Americas to Asia, fear engulfed us. Travel advisories were quickly issued and flights suspended. Countries such as Australia and the UK unleashed their cheque books but declined to officially place medics on the ground. Our story begins at this point.
“The fund is designed to cater for low value intervention which donors would otherwise find difficult to support.”
It appears UKaid didn’t have concrete ways of monitoring how its funds were used in Ebola Zones, and some beneficiaries fully exploited the loophole. When it announced the funding, UKaid stated: “The fund is designed to cater for low value intervention which donors would otherwise find difficult to support.” Was there a coded message for anybody willing to take the risk of ridding the world of Ebola? Here was an opportunity for health contractors to crisscross the globe like their colleagues in defense who tackle work that nobody wants for one reason or the other.
There were already many medical boots on the ground in West Africa including MSF, Samaritan’s Purse, SIM, International Medical Corps, medica mondiale Liberia, ActionAid, Africa Development Corps, Last Mile Health, Caritas International, Africare, Catholic Relief Services, CAUSE Canada, ChildFund International, Wellbody Alliance, Allied Health Services, Concern Worldwide, Healey International Relief Foundation, Tiyatien Health and Médecins du Monde.
Had DfID wanted to work with a British organisation, on the ground were Oxfam International, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision International. These organisations had established partnerships with local health authorities and organisations in West Africa. None of them would have turned down good funding from DfID, but there were no offers. The great people in London opted to fund an Italian surgical NGO called Emergency. So, what exactly made the Italians stand out from other potential beneficiaries?
The name would linguistically imply that the organisation is a team of first responders. However, until August 2014 it had no experience in tropical and infectious diseases. It can be best described as a surgical NGO that works in conflict and war areas, performing surgeries on the wounded.
Emergency fits in the same category as Operation Smile, the team of surgeons that repair facial deformities on children worldwide.
“Whatsoever house I may enter, my visit shall be for the convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood...” This extract from the original Hippocratic Oath would indicate that by accepting funds from UKaid without the required expertise, Emergency knew that its entry into Sierra Leone would not be ‘for the convenience and advantage of the patients’.
Regardless, the NGO’s CEO, Dr. Gino Strada - a top war and conflict surgeon who suffers from emphysema caused by heavy smoking - surrendered leadership of the UKaid funded-mission to his wife Dr. Gina Portella, an anesthetist.
A drowning man clutches onto anything that floats. Faced with a deadly crisis, Sierra Leoneans accepted help from anyone who claimed to have answers. UKaid should have known better not to give fertile agricultural land to knife-wielding chefs to grow food for the starving. With nothing to cut, the surgical masters had to modify as they went along.
We have learnt that when the Emergency team begun the mission they dispensed familiar drugs and turned to Google to find correct dosage for the strange ones. Perhaps because of their surgical background or other yet-to-be-disclosed motives, the primary drugs that they administered were cardiac medications and anesthetics. impunity displayed by Emergency is baffling.
Defending the use of Amiodarone in a statement released from Milan, Emergency said; “It is false that Amiodarone is an untested drug in humans. It is used in cardiology since 40 years, prescribed to millions of people…” (Cardiology and NOT Ebola, doctors. Would you also say it would be proper, professional and ethical to prescribe Penicillin, which has been in for the last 87 years, to a malaria patient? - editor)
We cannot imagine why Emergency disregarded an important scientific paper that was produced by a team of scientists and published in the Nature Journal (EMI) just weeks before their statement. The scientists listed 53 compounds that were approved for combating Ebola. None of the compounds found in Amiodarone were on the list. The NGO seemed to have its own medical guide that apparently allows atrocity.
Despite an earlier undertaking to us, DfID didn’t respond to concerns we had raised on why it allowed Emergency to continue exterminating Ebola victims in Sierra Leone.