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A Doctor Who Left His Mark on a World That Lives in Fear of Ebola

William Close, the father of actress Glenn Close, helped control the first epidemic in Africa in the 1970s. He died in Wyoming last month at age 84. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have declared the end of an outbreak of Ebola virus. Cases were first identified in December in the southern province of Kasai Occidental. The World Health Organization says officials reported a total of thirty-two cases, including fifteen deaths.

The worst form of the disease kills nine out of ten victims. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever. It causes unstoppable bleeding. It spreads through contact with blood and other bodily fluids. There are no cures, but researchers continue to learn more about how the feared virus works.

It was named for the Ebola River in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. A doctor in Zaire, Ngoy Mushola, documented the first outbreak in nineteen seventy- six. Hundreds of people were infected, and most died.

The epidemic might have been even worse had it not been for the father of the actress Glenn Close.

Doctor William Close, an American, worked in Zaire for sixteen years. For a time he was one of only three doctors, and the only surgeon, at a huge hospital in Kinshasa. Later he was the administrator. He was also chief doctor of Zaire's army and personal physician to President Mobutu Sese Seko.

One night, Doctor Close was on a plane, returning from a visit to the United States. He heard two other passengers talking about the epidemic. The United States Centers for Disease Control had sent them to help.

One was a virus expert. Karl Johnson had identified and photographed the Ebola virus just days earlier. The other was Joel Breman, another C.D.C. expert. Doctor Close spent the flight talking with them.

Then, in Zaire, he quickly used his connections and influence with the government. Doctor Breman remembers how William Close's planning and administration helped the medical team end the epidemic. He organized supply flights, for example, to affected areas.

To contain the spread of the virus, people were restricted to villages. Medical workers were given protective clothing. Equipment was carefully disinfected.

After his work in Africa, William Close returned to the United States. He became a country doctor, as he had always wanted. He was still working in Big Piney, Wyoming, when he died of a heart attack on January fifteenth. He was eighty-four years old. Joel Breman says, "Doctor Close left his mark on the world."

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.