HARBEL, LiberiaWith 932 reported deaths and more than 1,700 reported cases as of Aug. 6, the outbreak of the Ebola virus in four West African nations is the most serious since the virus was first identified nearly four decades ago.
As healthcare humanitarian efforts are ratcheted up to handle the crisis, executives of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations say they are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of Ebola on their 240-square-mile natural rubber plantation at Harbel, about 35 miles from the Liberian capital of Monrovia.
Officials at the plantation were first notified of Ebola in the region in late March 2014, according to Steve Shelton, senior vice president of technology, manufacturing and procurement for Bridgestone Americas.
At about the same time, the first case of Ebola on the plantation was reported, according to Mr. Shelton. The victim was the wife of a plantation employee who caught the virus while nursing a relative who lived outside the plantation.
About 80,000 people live within the borders of the Bridgestone plantation, nearly 7,500 of whom are Bridgestone employees, Mr. Shelton told Tire Business. Neither he nor Don Darden, executive director of communications for Bridgestone Americas, could say exactly how many cases of Ebola virus had been reported on the plantation.
However, as soon as Bridgestone learned of the Ebola threat, it immediately formed two task forces to set the plan of action to prevent the disease from spreading, Messrs. Shelton and Darden said.
The first task force, based in Harbel, consists of 12 peopleboth local and expatriate employeesheaded by Ed Garcia, the plantation's managing director.
The second, based at Bridgestone Americas headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., included Messrs. Shelton and Darden, Bridgestone's head of security and members of the human relations department, Messrs. Shelton and Darden said.
The task forces acted immediately to distribute protective clothing at the plantation, including masks, gloves and suits. Since the virus is spread by bodily fluids, everything to prevent that contact is provided, Mr. Shelton said.
They also distributed fliers among plantation residents, detailing how to avoid contracting the virus, and broadcast information about Ebola on its Voice of Firestone radio station at Harbel, Messrs. Shelton and Darden said.
Bridgestone has a 300-bed hospital on the plantation that is one of very few still operating in Liberia, according to the two company officials. When the Ebola threat was announced, the company converted an outbuilding at the hospital into an isolation ward for patients with confirmed cases of the virus, they said.
Another building on the plantation, an unused schoolhouse, was transformed into a monitoring ward to house patients suspected of having the virus. If patients do not show symptoms after the 21-day incubation period, they are allowed back into the plantation's general population, Messrs. Shelton and Darden said.
Bridgestone's preventative actions were so successful that, in early May, the plantation passed 21 days without a further Ebola case being reported, they said. They credited Mr. Garcia and Dr. Lindon Mabande, head doctor at the plantation, with the success of the preventative program.
Communication was our best tool, Mr. Shelton said. There were a lot of misconceptions about the virushow you got it and how you handled patients who have it. Thanks to the brochures and the Voice of Firestone, we were able to correct them.
During the crisis, Bridgestone has been in constant touch with the U.S. Embassy, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and Doctors Without Borders, according to Messrs. Shelton and Darden. They also have conferred frequently with members of the Liberian government, though the government is limited in what it is able to do, they said.
This is a country that is still very much in recovery after its civil war, Mr. Darden added.
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com.