Liberia ‘Ebola Heroine’ Dies of Cancer

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One of the many African medical practitioners who came to Liberia to help save lives during the height of the nation’s Ebola crisis, Dr. Atai Annae Omoruto, has died of pancreatic cancer, the New Vision, a local Ugandan daily reports.

Dr. Omoruto passed away at 3a.m. Thursday at the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, New Vision said.

Dr. Atai, as she was affectionately known in Liberia, was at the head of a team of Ugandan medical specialists comprising two doctors and seven nurses who came to the country in June 2014 during the height of the deadly Ebola virus epidemic.

She, along with her colleagues from Uganda and several Liberian medical practitioners, helped to save many lives when they began operating the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU), a 35-bed Ebola facility located at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Sinkor.

Looking at the rate of infection at the time, she had told our Health Correspondent in June 2014 that the disease would still be around up to December that year. The disease was still around, even though its rate of infections dwindled.

The Ugandan, who was a practicing family physician, and her team were later moved to the Island Clinic ETU on Bushrod Island, where many lives were also saved because of their intervention. She and her colleagues departed Liberia following the drastic reduction of the virus’s transmission.

Speaking with the Daily Observer, Ms. Liliane Luwaga, a Ugandan working with the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Liberia, said: “Dr. Atai was among the first brave ones who came to Liberia when most people were running from this country.

“Dr. Atai was very courageous; she had a selfless spirit. She had the passion to help save every sick Ebola patient that she came across. She trained many Liberian health workers. We are going to miss her. Africa, including Liberia, will miss her so dearly.”

Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah stated that her loss is a global loss to the public health and medical arena because of her vast experience in handling infectious diseases such as Ebola, Yellow Fever and Marburg disease.

He added: “Her experience in dealing with viral hemorrhagic diseases is something that would be irreplaceable for a very long time.” He also praised her for working closely with the Ministry of Health in saving “hundreds of lives at the Ebola treatment units in JFK compound and Island Clinic.”

He lamented that the African medical community had lost a “very resilient health worker, an Ebola guru,” adding that she will be greatly missed.

Mr. Nyenswah disclosed that Dr. Atai was “a very strong advocate for Ebola healthcare workers to be treated with respect and dignity.”

Her profile posted by the Public Health Department of the Makerere University said: “Dr. Atai Annae Omoruto was the Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the Makerere University College of Health Sciences. She was also the Chair of the Community Health Department at the adjoining teaching hospital, Mulago National Referral Hospital.

“At the College of Health Sciences, Dr Atai-Omoruto and team ran the postgraduate program in Family Medicine leading to the award of Med Family Medicine and Community Practice, and supervised students throughout the program.

“As well as being a founding member of the Association of Family Physicians of East Africa, Dr Atai was President of the Association of Family Physicians of Uganda.

“She participated in various forums for the promotion of the discipline of Family Medicine in the Medical Schools in Eastern and Southern Africa region in conjunction with the Belgian Association of Family Medicine Departments (VLIR) and the South African Family Medicine Consortium (FAMEC).

“She also conducted research in the field of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.”

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