ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — Three teachers and two students from Anderson High School didn't shy from a mission trip to Liberia in late July, even though they knew the West Africa nation was at the center of the world's worst Ebola outbreak.
It was a topic of conversation before the quintet left on their 10-day trip July 17. But after doing research and taking precautions, they decided the risks were acceptable, said Lesli Randall, who teaches social studies and coaches volleyball.
Teachers Randall, Rick Zuchkovski and Jordan Pridemore, and students Kaitlin Phipps and Shelby Hall, traveled to Liberia with a Muncie-based missionary group called Hope 2 Liberia.
The nonprofit is dedicated to supplying Liberians with clean water and teaching them about the need for sanitation; the group is also building a school and training Liberian teachers.
"I never had any worries or doubts," but members of her family and some friends did, Randall told The Herald Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1r6fXAu ).
World Health Organization officials Wednesday said the number of confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola cases has reached 1,711 in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. And the death toll has climbed to 932.
A major hospital in Liberia closed after several staff were infected, including a Spanish priest and nurse who were evacuated to a hospital in Madrid for treatment. A nurse and a doctor working for Christian aid groups in the country are now undergoing treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
This week, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency, saying the Ebola outbreak "now poses serious risks to the health, safety, security and welfare of our nation."
Randall said members of her group spent only a short time in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, before driving out to a small village called Marshall 35 miles distant. The village is not near the three hardest-hit counties where government troops have been dispatched to restrict road traffic.
The distance between Monrovia and Marshall is about the same as the distance between Anderson and Indianapolis. Because there are no telephones, electricity, Internet or radios, many people in the village didn't know about the outbreak of the Ebola virus, Randall said.
"Out in the village we didn't hear a whole lot about it," she added.
Like Randall, Zuchkovski said after doing research and reading about the Ebola virus, he "felt pretty comfortable" traveling to Liberia.
To lower the risk of health problems, the group took its own water and food on the trip, he said, and "stayed away from anyone who looked sick."
"One of the big problems is they don't understand the importance of sanitation," and at funerals, it is common to kiss the deceased on the lips.
The disease is spread through contact with bodily fluids such as blood, saliva and sweat. Ebola victims remain contagious after death, making the continued practice of traditional burial rites a problem.
Despite efforts to bring the outbreak under control, Johnson Sirleaf said in a statement this week, "Ignorance, poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices, continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease, especially in the counties."
Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com