Monday, October 6, 2014

WSJ: Fascinating Ebola Success Story At Liberia's Firestone Rubber Farm Clinic


THIS IS A HOPEFUL STORY FROM THE WSJ about how the Bridgestone/Firestone management team met around a table, strategized, then took action.

So far, so good using money, manpower and organization at hand:


FIRESTONE, Liberia—As Ebola exploded here this year, a rubber farm embarked on a crash course on how to tame an epidemic that has killed thousands of people and derailed governments across West Africa.

One morning in March, when the first case arrived at the Liberian unit of Japan’s Bridgestone farm, managers sat around a rubber-tree table and googled “Ebola,” said Ed Garcia, president of Firestone Natural Rubber Company LLC. Then they built two Ebola isolation clinics, using shipping containers and plastic wrap.

They trained their janitors how to bury Ebola corpses. Their agricultural surveyors mapped the virus as it spread house to house, and teachers at the company’s schools went door-to-door to explain the disease. “It was like flying an airplane and reading the manual at the same time,” said Philippines-born Mr. Garcia, who runs this 185-square-mile stretch of rubber trees.

Six months later, Firestone has turned the tide of infections, offering a sanctuary of health in a country where cases are doubling every three weeks. Ebola’s broader threat was illustrated on Monday, when a Spanish medical worker tested positive for Ebola after treating an Africa-based missionary who had been infected with the virus and flown to Madrid, officials said. It was the first suspected transmission outside West Africa.

The virus could flare again at Firestone. But as of last week, not a single known infection was left among the company’s 8,500 employees and their 71,500 dependents.

The company’s Ebola clinic, which boasts amenities such as ceiling fans, was empty last Wednesday. The head doctor, expressed relief that his staff didn’t risk being infected by a mistaken needle prick.

 An hour’s drive from here, in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, clinics are packed, and scores are dying daily. The difference isn’t that Firestone applied any breakthrough tactics in fighting a virus first identified four decades ago, health experts and company officials said. It is that the rubber company had the money, manpower, and organization to tackle an epidemic that several sovereign West African governments found bewildering. More than 3,400 people have died in West Africa according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization.

Many times that number have died at home, infecting their families without entering a clinic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Every hour, five people in Sierra Leone are infected, said British charity Save The Children last week. While the viral infection has exposed how weak health care in West Africa is, it has also revealed a widening gulf between the facilities of these governments and the resource companies on which they depend.

A 14-year-long war left both this nation and the Firestone rubber farm in ruins. A decade later, it is Firestone that has rebuilt. The contagion has escalated beyond what West African governments can manage. Troops and medics from the U.S. and U.K.—even tiny Cuba—have arrived to help build and staff clinics. The Ebola epidemic is edging toward the borders of Mali, Guinea-Bissau and Ivory Coast, said health experts, another trio of countries recovering from civil wars. Ebola is now in every county of Liberia. It is also just across the river from the Firestone farm, as the company’s president illustrated by dragging a laser pointer along a map. “There are villages here that are getting wiped out,” Mr. Garcia said.

 As Spain reports the first case of ebola contracted outside of West Africa, how can the disease be stopped from spreading?

Nearly a century ago, at the dawn of the automobile age, Liberia staked its future on rubber. The men who governed this land, descendants of freed American slaves, took out huge debts to Firestone. Here in Africa, they hoped to erect a modern, industrial republic, modeled off America. Instead, Liberia fell into insolvency, then, in 1989, a civil war. It ended 14 years later with 250,000 lives lost. A third of the population fled, according to the United Nations, and those who returned found a country plundered.

 Many bombed-out government buildings were left roofless. Firestone’s company hospital sat roofless, too, when its managers returned to the property at war’s end. Even the elevators had been looted from their shafts. Trees had been so poorly cared for that the farm, the world’s biggest contiguous rubber plantation, may not return to its 1989 output until 2032, said Mr. Garcia.

And yet the Firestone plantation a decade later is, in some ways, a microcosm of the America in Africa Liberia’s founders had envisioned. In a country where children walk to school over muddy paths, high-school students here board big yellow school buses, winding over country roads. Electricity flows from a private dam. Water towers, telephone poles, speed-limit signs and brick homes—all exceedingly rare in tropical Africa—stare out over mowed hillsides that resemble the landscape outside Nashville, Tenn., where Firestone’s head office is based

No comments: