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Park Slope Man Returns to Liberia to Keep Fighting Deadly Ebola Outbreak

By Leslie Albrecht | November 12, 2014 7:24am
 Mahmoud Iderabdullah will direct a clinic operated by the Park Slope-based nonprofit, Imani House.
Park Slope Man Who Had Brush with Ebola Returns to Africa to Fight Disease
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PARK SLOPE — A Park Slope man who survived a brush with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia has returned to the African nation to help fight the outbreak.

On Monday, Mahmoud Ideraabdullah reopened a health clinic in Liberia that's run by the Park Slope-based nonprofit Imani House, Inc. The clinic was forced to close for more than a month after two of its staff members died of Ebola in September.

While Ideraabdullah spends the next month running the clinic outside Liberia's capital, Monrovia, his wife Bisi, Imani House's executive director, will remain in Brooklyn raising money and awareness of Ebola's impact in West Africa.

"I'm terrified," Bisi Ideraabdullah said of her husband's stay in Liberia, where 2,700 people have died of Ebola, more than in any other country. "I talk to my husband every day and I repeat 'Be vigilant’ to him like a mantra."

Ideraabdullah was last in Liberia helping to run the clinic in September, when he had close contact with one of the staff members who fell ill with Ebola. Upon returning home to the United States, he quarantined himself in his Park Slope home for 21 days. He did not develop symptoms of the virus.

Imani House's clinic in Liberia isn't equipped to treat Ebola patients, but with hastily raised donations, it will help serve other critical needs.

The clinic just renovated an old building to serve as an isolation unit for patients who show up with Ebola symptoms. The nonprofit also bought two ambulances and is shipping them to Liberia to ferry suspected Ebola patients to treatment centers. The vehicles will be a big help in Liberia, where ambulances are rare, Bisi Ideraabdullah said.

Imani House clinic staff have also been working in the communities surrounding the clinic, educating people about Ebola and how to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

Most importantly, the Imani House clinic will continue treating its usual patient population of mothers and children. The clinic specializes in prenatal care, and also treats sicknesses such as diarrhea, malaria, typhoid and cholera. While Ebola has ravaged Liberia, the country's already struggling medical system has been nearly halted as clinics have become overwhelmed or closed.

Officials have warned of "collateral deaths" from other illnesses such as malaria that are going untreated during the Ebola outbreak.

“Clinics have to reopen and serve people who have other illnesses,” Bisi Ideraabdullah said. “One of the things that people don’t understand is the collateral deaths happening because of clinics being closed...The patients were clamoring to have the clinic open."

To prevent any more staff from becoming infected with Ebola, the Imani House clinic will now follow strict new protocols. Employees won't be able to start work each day until they've had their temperature taken, and they'll wear newly purchased protective gear that Mahmoud Ideraabdullah brought with him from the United States.

Originally Mahmoud had planned to return to the United States from his current trip in late December, but he changed his return date to early December allow for a 21-day quarantine before he celebrates Kwanzaa with his family, Bisi Ideraabdullah said.

Bisi Ideraabdullah said she reminds her husband every day to wear a protective mask. Despite the risks, the couple felt compelled to keep the Imani House clinic up and running. The Ideraabduallahs lived in Liberia in 12 years and there was no question that they would do what they could to help their adopted homeland.

"The loss of even our very small clinic could mean the loss of health services and lead to death for women and children, so the staff decided to stay open," Mahmoud Ideraabdullah told DNAinfo New York in October. "I wanted to support them."