CHARLOTTE N.C. (Reuters) - With the number of Ebola cases in West Africa expected to rise by the thousands, a Christian relief organization in North Carolina is gearing up for a new community and home-based care effort aimed at stopping the spread of the deadly virus.
Samaritan's Purse leaders said the 100 tons of equipment and supplies loaded onto a cargo jet due to fly from Charlotte to Liberia on Wednesday was just a fraction of what is needed to combat the disease that has now killed more than 3,000 people.
News of the first patient to be diagnosed with the disease in the United States has underlined the urgent need to slow its spread.
"West Africa needs the attention of the international community," said Franklin Graham, a U.S. evangelist and president of Samaritan's Purse. "Because if we don't stop it there, it's just going to keep coming to this country."
The relief group, which Graham said had sent back to Liberia the American staff it evacuated after one of its doctors, Dr. Kent Brantly, contracted Ebola, will build 15 community care centers in rural areas with high numbers of cases.
The 10-bed facilities will supplement more traditional Ebola treatment units and will provide basic supportive care rather than clinical aid, said Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations for Samaritan's Purse.
The U.S. government is also committed to building additional treatment centers, but Samaritan's Purse leaders said there still will not be enough beds to meet the need in the worst Ebola epidemic on record.
That is why they plan to disperse supplies to hard-hit communities as part of an interim home-based intervention initiative geared at infected people who may be too frightened to seek medical help or do not have access to it.
The plane in Charlotte was filled Wednesday morning with rain coats, rubber gloves, boots, masks, soap and chlorine, all common items that can provide "robust protection" against the virus, said Dr. Lance Plyler, the relief group's medical director for disaster response.
Samaritan's Purse staff will teach Liberians how to provide hygienic, supportive care using the supplies, including proper disinfecting techniques, Plyler said.
Plyler said the "incredible devastation" he saw while in Liberia this summer requires new strategies.
"Home-based care is already happening," Isaacs said. "We need to give people the equipment and knowledge to care for their loved ones and protect themselves."
Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Walsh