Nearly five years have passed since he nearly died of the Ebola virus in Liberia, but Richard Sacra has never failed in his commitment to the struggling nation of West Africa.
The 56-year-old Massachusetts family doctor was part of a handful of Americans treated and cured of the Ebola virus during the deadly epidemic that raged in West Africa. in 2014, the worst epidemic ever recorded, killing more than 11,000 people over two years, mainly in Liberia, Ghana and Guinea.
Sacra contracted the virus while giving birth at ELWA, a mission hospital located in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, where he had been working for more than two decades. He was evacuated and treated in Omaha, Nebraska, but a few months later, Sacra was back in ELWA – which means "Eternal Love Winning Africa" - treating patients.
The Christian devotee, who dreams of becoming a growing missionary in the Boston area, has been coming back ever since.
"It's our country of adoption," Sacra said Wednesday, as his wife Debbie and himself took a rare break at home in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he is a faculty professor. of Medicine from the University of Massachusetts. "My wife and I have been going to Liberia since 1987. Our kids grew up there, so the idea of not going there would be harder for me than going back."
On Thursday, Sacra will be honored by the African Mission Healthcare Foundation for her work in Liberia, a nation founded in the 19th century as a colony of liberated African-American slaves. The organization awards him the Chaim Award for outstanding Christian medical missionary service during a ceremony in New York. The annual prize includes a $ 500,000 gift.
Sacra said the money will be used at ELWA to build an intensive care unit, install solar panels and set up a training program for family doctors that he founded in 2017.
The increase in the number of family doctors is a minor but crucial element of the country's reconstruction, which had never fully recovered from more than a decade of civil war before the epidemic Ebola, said Sacra.
"The Ebola crisis has particularly highlighted the weakness of the health system in Liberia, the whole system collapsed because there were too few doctors and qualified nurses," he said. . "One of our goals as a mission is to strengthen this health system – not just to bring doctors in, but to train local doctors and build their capacity so that it does not happen again. "
The Ebola virus has continued to spread in other parts of Africa, particularly in Congo, where more than 300 people have died since last summer. But Sacra thinks that Liberia is better prepared than it was five years ago.
More and more doctors are coming out of local medical programs, the national government has put in place a public health and education surveillance system, and an experimental Ebola vaccine is being tested.
"Building a health system from scratch is not something you can do in a year or two," Sacra said. "It's a long-time project."
Sacra says her three sons, age 20 and starting their own careers, are committed to participating in these efforts in the near future.
"We are just grateful that God has given us a second chance to continue to make an impact," he said.
Follow Philip Marcelo on twitter.com/philmarcelo.