- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina-based Christian relief organization on Wednesday sent about 100 tons of supplies to west African nations struggling to halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Against the backdrop of a 747 cargo plane and several forklifts loading pallets of materials, the Rev. Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, outlined the mission at a news conference at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

“Ebola is devastating,” Graham said. “It’s the most dangerous virus in the world.”

He said the battle against Ebola will be won “with God’s help, and with the support of many people in this country and around the world,” but it will take time and international support for nations like Liberia. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, Liberia’s ambassador to the U.S., was on hand for the event.

Samaritan’s Purse spokeswoman Allison Geist said the plane left Charlotte around 5 p.m., EDT.

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola is thought to have sickened more than 6,500 people in West Africa. More than 3,000 deaths have been linked to the disease. This week, the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. was confirmed in a man who recently traveled from Liberia to Dallas.

Graham said the virus must be stopped not only in Liberia, but in Guinea and Sierra Leone or it will come to the U.S.

“We do have the expertise in this country,” he said. “We have the system to stop Ebola in America. The problem in Liberia is the health care system there is almost non-existent. They have a few doctors, but there’s just not enough under normal circumstances, much less to have anything like Ebola.”

Nancy Writebol, a Charlotte-based missionary who was stricken with Ebola while in Liberia, said the report of a victim in Dallas wasn’t surprising given the ability to travel anywhere in the world. She said she was concerned for the victim, but also grateful that the person sought treatment at a hospital.

Writebol said the victim’s family should rely on its faith as well as its patience that the virus will be controlled.

“I would encourage family members, even if there is a bad day, not to get discouraged,” she said. “It’s not always a quick recovery. So, be patient and trust that doctors and nurses are going to do the very best that they know how.”

Dr. Lance Plyler is medical director for disaster response at Samaritan’s Purse and has treated Ebola patients in Liberia. He said the Dallas case should provide a template for the U.S.

“I understand ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind.’ It’s really critical that the United States pay particular attention to what’s going on in west Africa and that we reach out and help.” Plyler said. “There is still a tremendous need.”

Plyler said the organization has had to devise a unique approach to fighting Ebola and not just rely on typical treatment procedures. While the supplies include personal protective equipment, chlorine and soap, Plyler said the Ebola outbreak has led Samaritan’s Purse “to really think outside the box.”

“We utilized commonplace items that would still provide very robust protection for the Liberian people,” Plyler said.

Instead of providing traditional protective suits for health workers, Plyler said they would provide raincoats that would prove just as effective. There are also training manuals that use pictures instead of words because of the high rate of illiteracy in Liberia.

Also among the supplies are buckets for mixing chlorine, and plastic covers for people to place in their homes and protect against the residents coming in contact with bodily fluids.

Plyler called Wednesday’s shipment just “a drop in the bucket.” He said he plans to return to Liberia and added there would be a need for more airlifts.

“We need hundreds more of these,” he said.

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