When Dr. Barry Byer of Falls Church recently retired from medical practice after 40 years, he had no idea he would soon be helping to contain the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Byer, 72, formerly chief of the Department of Family Practice at Virginia Hospital Center, is currently a trustee of the Fairfax-based chapter of the nonprofit Brother’s Brother Foundation, which is supporting nearly 75 hospitals and clinics in Sierra Leone and Liberia; two West African countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak.
BBF is a Pittsburgh-based international charity with a warehouse that opened in Merrifield last year. Throughout its 56-year history, BBF has provided over 100,000 tons of medical supplies, textbooks, food, seeds, and other humanitarian supplies to people in over 140 countries. The foundation was recently listed by Forbes magazine as one of the top three most efficient charities and the 38th largest charity in the United States.
With the help of gifts from the general public, corporations and hospital systems such as INOVA and MedStar Health, over the past three years the foundation has provided over 20 tractor trailer loads of medical supplies and equipment to 53 hospitals and clinics in Sierra Leone and 20 in Liberia.
Many of these hospitals are now treating Ebola patients. Several have lost medical staff who have died or been put in quarantine due to the Ebola outbreak.
In 1993, Byers founded a similar local foundation, called Crosslink International, which became part of BBF just last year.
“When this outbreak occurred, we were already strategically positioned to help out these hospitals and clinics in those affected countries,” Byers said. “We were already helping them out, but now we have stepped up our efforts to make sure they are getting exactly what they need to battle this horrible epidemic.”
Byers said BBF is providing medical and personal protection equipment such as surgical instruments, gloves, face shields, IV poles, masks, gowns and soap to both countries.
According to Byers, three 40-foot cargo-ship containers are now en route; two to Liberia and one to Sierra Leone. Another shipment leaves Saturday for the Ministry of Health in Liberia and an additional shipment is scheduled to leave for Sierra Leone in the next 10 days.
“These containers are 40 feet long by eight feet wide and eight feet high,” Byers said. “We are providing everything we can, but there is so much need due to this outbreak that it isn’t nearly enough.”
Workers and volunteers are working around the clock at the Merrifield warehouse to supply medical workers battling the Ebola outbreak on the front lines in Africa.
“A group from Liberia, including a nurse who was recently on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic there, was here in our Fairfax warehouse on Tuesday,” said Ruth Anderson, director of hospital supply for the foundation’s Fairfax chapter. “People close to the action there are in tears because doctors and other medical staff who were exposed before they knew it are now dying.” Anderson said the group from Liberia was there to determine what supplies hospitals and clinics there urgently needed the most.
“The need there is just enormous,” said Byers. “We are doing whatever we can do to help.”