Saul Ewing attorney leads charity working to combat Ebola and provide quality medical care in Sierra Leone
As Sierra Leone struggles to combat an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, a hospital in what is one of the world’s poorest countries is engaged in the fight against Ebola and the health care crisis it has created. By providing vitally needed medical care, screening of patients for Ebola, protection of health care workers with training and personal protective equipment, and community education on how to prevent the spread of this disease, Mercy Hospital, is impacting the lives of thousands in need. Mercy Hospital is supported by Helping Children Worldwide, a non-profit with connections to Saul Ewing LLP.
Robert L. Duston, a partner in the firm’s Business and Finance Practice, is the Board chair for Helping Children Worldwide (HCW). HCW’s programs in Sierra Leone include Mercy Hospital in Bo, the country’s second largest city, not far from the epicenter of this outbreak.
While Mercy Hospital is not equipped to treat Ebola, it has helped slow the spread by working with government health officials in Sierra Leone to identify patients in the community with the virus, isolate them and send them to specialty facilities elsewhere in the country. Mercy serves close to 10,000 patients per year and now safely screens suspected cases of the virus, taking steps to prevent accidental spread during childbirth. Equally important, Mercy Hospital continues its mission of providing vital services in the midst of a crisis that is threatening the medical infrastructure of several countries in the region.
HCW is making regular shipments of high-grade personal protective equipment to the doctors, nurses and laboratory staff working in the 26-bed primary care hospital. Caregivers in other parts of the country have succumbed to the virus due to a lack of appropriate masks, gloves, goggles and other equipment. These deaths, and the closure of other primarily care facilities, only exacerbates an already difficult challenge – Sierra Leone has less than 200 doctors to serve a country of 5.8 million people.
Mercy employees are all Sierra Leone citizens employed by the Sierra Leone Conference of the United Methodist Church, which operates the hospital in partnership with HCW. The nonprofit’s broader mission is to save children in Sierra Leone from disease, malnutrition, exploitation and illiteracy by building partnerships with local organizations that can help strengthen families and improve the health of women and children.
HCW’s first major initiative was opening the Child Rescue Centre in 2000 to provide care for orphaned street children affected by Sierra Leone’s civil war. That initiative grew into a foster care and child support program that now serves over 400 children. Mercy Hospital followed in 2007, with a significant community outreach program into the remote villages in the region.
Rob joined HCW in 2008, became chair of its Board in 2013, and has traveled to Sierra Leone twice on HCW Board matters. He partners with other lawyers, diplomats and doctors, on and off the Board, to help HCW with its mission. In addition, Rob has also been instrumental in providing pro bono legal counsel to help the 501c(3) nonprofit set up strategic joint ventures that have brought desperately needed pharmaceutical and lab services to Bo. Rob, with help from other Saul Ewing attorneys, has also provided legal advice on non-profit governance, tax, employment and many other issues.
Saul Ewing has provided financial support by sponsoring HCW’s Annual Golf Tournament fundraiser for the past four years, including the most recent one held on September 8, 2014 at the 1757 Golf Club in Dulles, Virginia.
HCW is based in Chantilly, Virginia and originated as an outreach project of Floris United Methodist Church, which is also a Saul Ewing pro bono client.