Phebe Dennis-Fortt and her small organization from Modesto have sent books, clothing, food and school supplies to Liberia, the poverty-stricken country where she was born and raised.
This time, she is gathering donations for the West African country’s life-and-death struggle with the Ebola epidemic. She is collecting items that most people don’t keep in their kitchen pantry or garage: surgical gowns, protective clothing, face masks, shoe covers, eye shields, malaria test kits and body bags.
Dennis-Fortt, chief executive officer of Relief Inc., is working to fill a 40-foot shipping container with medical supplies for Liberia, where more than 1,200 people have died from Ebola disease. Confirmed cases of the hemorrhagic fever have occurred in 14 of the 15 counties in Liberia, according to the World Health Organization.
Almost 80 health workers in Liberia have died from the disease, and areas of the country are woefully short on medical supplies. Hospitals don’t have enough beds for Ebola patients.
“Some people are not even going to the hospital to seek medical care,” Dennis-Fortt said. “They are trying to treat themselves at home because there is nothing in the hospital for them.”
The Modesto woman has relatives in Liberia and communicates regularly with a sister in a small town called Kakata. Her sister has not been sickened by the lethal virus and says all of their siblings are OK.
Dennis-Fortt said she will talk with local hospitals and other health care providers about donating any items they have available. Along with supplies that are typically used in an epidemic, bleach and other disinfectants are needed for cleaning ambulances and surfaces in Liberian hospitals.
Dennis-Fortt said she is coordinating the effort with Liberians Against Ebola Inc. and may reach out to the nonprofit program MedShare to help ship the supplies to where they are needed.
She said she traveled to Liberia in 2013 to deal with authorities and make sure a Relief Inc. shipment was delivered to the needy, but she won’t be visiting the country this time. “A month ago, they put a stop to people coming and going from Liberia,” she said. “In August, a friend came from Liberia and spent a couple of weeks here and went back. People taking containers to Liberia are not getting off the ship.”
First discovered in the Congo in 1976, Ebola has sparked horrifying outbreaks in several African nations – and this one is the worst in history. Symptoms of fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea lead to internal and external bleeding, sometimes from the eyes and skin pores. In the current outbreaks in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, reported death rates have ranged from 50 percent to 70 percent.
The disease is spread by contact with the bodily fluids of a person stricken with the virus or who died from the illness.
In 2009, Dennis-Fortt teamed with rapper MC Hammer to raise funds for her organization’s relief efforts and programs in Liberia, such as Women of Worth and Kids in School. Her husband, Ronald Fortt, a former co-owner of Tracy Toyota, has been a partner with Hammer in a software business.
Relief Inc. is organizing an Ebola candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Oct. 3 at Christian Love Baptist Church, 202 H St. in west Modesto. It also plans to show the documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” at the State Theatre on Nov. 1. The film tells the story of a women’s peace initiative during the Liberian Civil War in 2003. Tickets are $20.
Dennis-Fortt said the group’s programs usually draw on support from local residents who have a global perspective. “Some people say that it’s Africa’s problem and they don’t need to bother with it,” she said. “When we solve the issues on the other end, we are protecting ourselves on this end.”