Heather Robertson’s obstetrician couldn’t find a single pair of medical gloves in the capital of Liberia.
An international development professional and Reston resident, Robertson worked in Monrovia for more than three years and received prenatal care from Dr. Rick Sacra, the Massachusetts doctor who contracted ebola this summer and tested negative, his doctor said Sunday.
When Robertson heard that Sacra raced from shop to shop in search of gloves this summer, she felt hopeless — and then figured out how she could help.
Robertson, 39, is collecting thousands of gloves in Reston and sending them to hospitals in Liberia grappling with the deadly ebola virus. Just three weeks after launching a Facebook page called Gloves for Love Liberia, Robertson has received more than 42,000 gloves donated from as far away as Australia and France.
“It’s exceeded all my expectations,” she said, noting her family is using their guest room to store the stacks of cardboard boxes.
Boxes of gloves starting at $12 each and Tyvek suits that cost $13 each are part of an Amazon Wish List created by Robertson, who has worked on infrastructure and workforce development projects in Africa for 13 years.
“The Wish List is like a wedding registry,” she said, and allowed her to control the quality of the gloves according to what medical professionals in Monrovia told her they needed.
While what Liberia needs most to handle ebola is volunteer medical staff, Robertson said, glove donations let people without that expertise help, too.
“Donating gloves seemed more personal than giving money,” she said. “There’s something about the tangibleness of it.”
More than 14,000 of the gloves were sent earlier this month to an Episcopal church in Monrovia, which donated the supplies to nine clinics, Robertson said. And on Thursday, she and volunteers packed 22,000 of the gloves onto a truck headed toward a ship that will ferry the supplies to a Catholic church in Liberia’s capital. With the help of a nun Robertson knows, the gloves will go to 14 clinics. Church-run clinics often don’t receive government money, she said.
Robertson said she talks every day to Monrovia residents who survived the country’s 14-year civil war and are now grappling with the outbreak.
“People are scared,” she said. “They’re doing the minimum amount of interaction possible. Maybe they go to a store and the bank and then they go home. They’re going back into a protection and self-preservation mode.”
Reston made global headlines in 1990 when a strain of the virus was first identified at a lab in the locality and a monkey infected with it escaped.
Gloves for Love Liberia is now trying to collect a total of 50,000 through the end of this week.
“I’m going to keep going until people [in Liberia] tell me they no longer want to hear from me,” Robertson said.