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American Doctor Being Treated For Ebola Says His Condition Is Improving

By James Queally, Los Angeles Times

The American doctor who contracted Ebola while helping treat victims of a deadly outbreak that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West Africa says his condition is improving, according to a statement issued Friday.

Kent Brantly, who contracted the virus last month while treating patients in Liberia as part of an aid mission with the charity Samaritan’s Purse, has been recovering steadily after he was flown to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

“I thank God for the healthcare team here who is giving me compassionate, world-class care. I am more grateful every day to the Lord for sparing my life and continuing to heal my body,” Brantly said in a statement released by the charity. “There are still a few hurdles to clear before I can be discharged, but I hold on to the hope of a sweet reunion with my wife, children, and family in the near future.”

Brantly and fellow volunteer Nancy Writebol are being treated at Emory after they contracted the virus in Monrovia. They are the first Ebola patients to be treated on American soil.

The patients are being treated in a special isolation unit, one of only a handful in the country.

Writebol’s condition has also been steadily improving, according to a statement issued by Service in Mission, the charity Writebol was working with.

There is no known cure for Ebola, but both patients have been treated with an experimental serum that medical professionals hope will combat the virus’ effects. The serum, Zmapp, was developed in San Diego and had not previously been tested on humans.

AFP Photo/Inaki Gomez

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American Missionary Battling Ebola To Arrive In United States On Tuesday

By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK — As a deadly Ebola virus outbreak produced more victims in West Africa, an American missionary stricken with the disease was expected to arrive in the United States on Tuesday to join a U.S. doctor receiving treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The air ambulance that brought Dr. Kent Brantly to Atlanta on Saturday morning was sent back to Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, to pick up Nancy Writebol, said a statement from SIM USA, a Christian organization with which Writebol serves.

Bruce Johnson, the organization’s president, said Writebol’s husband, David, had told him that “her appetite has improved, and she requested one of her favorite dishes– Liberian potato soup — and coffee.”

“We are so grateful and encouraged to hear that Nancy’s condition remains stable and that she will be with us soon,” said Johnson.

Like Brantly, Writebol became infected with Ebola while volunteering in Liberia to treat others who fell ill during an outbreak that has now hit four countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.

There is no cure for the disease, which is spread through bodily fluids and which is not contagious until a person becomes symptomatic following an incubation period. But Emory doctors say victims have a far better chance of survival if they have top-notch “supportive care” to keep their vital organs strong as the body fights the virus.

That level of care, virtually absent in Liberia and most of West Africa, will be provided at Emory in a special isolation ward designed in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to treat people with contagious and highly dangerous diseases.

The jet that will carry Writebol to Atlanta landed in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, on Monday night, The Associated Press reported. It was to take off with Writebol early Tuesday.

In Nigeria, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu confirmed that nation’s first home-grown case of Ebola on Monday. Chukwu said a doctor who had treated an Ebola victim who flew into Lagos, Nigeria from Liberia on July 20 now has the disease.

The doctor treated Patrick Sawyer, 40, who collapsed in Lagos’ airport after getting off his flight. Sawyer died five days later in a Nigerian hospital. At least eight other Nigerians remain hospitalized and quarantine while they are tested for the virus.

Samaritan’s Purse, the aid agency Brantly works for, said he and Writebol both received “a dose of an experimental serum” after falling ill in Liberia last week. Brantly also received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola while under Brantly’s care, Samaritan’s Purse said.

Samaritan’s Purse did not say what was in the serum.

AFP Photo/Seyllou

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North Korea To Free Australian Evangelist

By Sid Astbury and Dirk Godder

SEOUL, South Korea — An Australian missionary arrested in North Korea last month for distributing Christian pamphlets is to be released, Pyongyang’s state-run media said Monday.

John Short, 75, had confessed to his “criminal behavior,” and was being freed partly on account of his age, according to North Korea’s official news agency KCNA.

Short traveled to North Korea from his home in Hong Kong with fellow missionary Wang Chong, before being detained on February 18.

The travel agency that booked the trip told Australian national broadcaster ABC that Short, who had Korean-language Christian pamphlets with him, admitted to North Korean officials that tourism was not the sole reason for his journey.

Wang was allowed to leave but Short is being held in Pyongyang.

Missionary work is illegal in North Korea. Kenneth Bae, a Korean-born American evangelist, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in April after being found guilty of trying to overthrow the Pyongyang regime.

AFP Photo/Woohae Cho

Australian Missionary Reportedly Detained By North Korea

By Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — A Hong Kong-based missionary from Australia has been detained in North Korea for allegedly distributing religious materials, his family said Wednesday.

John Short, 75, was taken into custody Sunday, his wife told the Advertiser, a newspaper in Adelaide, Australia.

Karen Short said it was her husband’s second visit to the isolated nation following a trip last year. The couple is affiliated with The Gospel Hall Brethren, a group of evangelical Christian assemblies not associated with any particular Protestant denomination.

According to a 2009 biography posted on a Gospel Hall-related website, the couple has long run a publishing business in Hong Kong that translates Christian materials into Chinese for distribution on the mainland as well as in Myanmar, Vietnam, Taiwan and elsewhere.

John Short’s detention follows the November 2012 arrest of American missionary and tour guide Kenneth Bae in the North Korean city of Rason. Bae was charged with committing “hostile acts against the state” and is serving a sentence of 15 years hard labor; North Korea has rejected repeated appeals for his release.

It was not immediately clear whether Short would face similar charges. Like the United States, Australia has no diplomatic mission in Pyongyang; the Swedish Embassy there normally represents Australian interests. North Korea does not have an embassy in Australia.

Karen Short described her husband as a “frontline man” and said “North Korea is very different — that’s why his heart was to go there.”

News of his detention follows Monday’s release of a scathing United Nations report on human rights violations in North Korea. The 400-page report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea noted the country’s “almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” with Christianity in particular quite unwelcome.

“The State considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the State,” the report said. “Apart from the few organized State-controlled churches, Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion and are persecuted.”

Short’s detention isn’t the first time he has found himself in the crosshairs of a foreign government. According to the online biography, he ran afoul of authorities in mainland China in May 1996, his second such arrest, and his visa was revoked. After some period, however, he was again granted permission to enter mainland China.

In a posting on a Gospel Hall website entitled “Does It Matter What I Believe?” Short described his convictions about his faith — and travel.

“To travel on a journey, it is vital to 1. Travel in the correct direction, 2. Follow a map, 3. Heed directions from those who know the way. 4. Road signs should be checked along the way to arrive safe and sound at the correct and desired destination,” he wrote.

“The Bible alone provides us with God’s directions for life’s journey to arrive safe and sound in heaven. It certainly does matter therefore ‘What I believe’ and ‘in Whom I trust’ to know the right way, God’s way!”

AFP Photo/Woohae Cho