A freelance cameraman working for NBC News has tested positive for Ebola and will be flown back to the United States for treatment.
The network reported that Ashoka Mukpo had just been hired Tuesday to be a second cameraman for NBC News medical editor, Nancy Snyderman, a physician. Mukpo, who has been working in Ebola-ravaged Liberia for some time, showed symptoms Wednesday and was feeling “tired and achy” before being tested, according to NBC News.
The network said the 33-year old cameraman, who is also a writer, was taken to a Doctors Without Borders treatment center and the positive test result came back 12 hours later.
“He’s scared; he’s got Ebola,” Mukpo’s father, Mitchell Levy, said in an interview with The Post on Friday. But, Levy added: “His spirits are a little bit better today.”
Levy, a medical doctor who specializes in sepsis treatment, said his son is “still in the early phases,” of Ebola infection, which he described as “fever, muscle aches, weakness, tiredness.”
The plane that will transport Mukpo out of Liberia is expected to land in Monrovia Sunday night, Levy said. He added that the current timeline means he’s “still encouraged that we’ll get him out” in time to effectively treat Mukpo in an American hospital — something that, as a doctor, he knows is crucial. “As a parent I want to see him,” he added.
Both parents are anxious to have Mukpo leave Liberia as quickly as possible, Mukpo’s mother, Diane Mukpo, told the “Today” show on Friday. “I believe they’re doing things as quickly as they can,” she said. “But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we know he’s going to be in Liberia until Sunday, and I really can only hope and pray that his symptoms don’t worsen too quickly.”
Mukpo is the son of Levy and Diana Mukpo, but he uses the last name of his mother’s first husband, Chögyam Mukpo, who died in 1987, Levy told The Post.
Mukpo is at least the fifth American known to have contracted Ebola in West Africa.
Three Americans who were in Liberia — doctors Richard Sacra and Kent Brantly and missionary worker Nancy Writebol — were discharged after they were successfully treated in the United States for Ebola. A Liberian American, Patrick Sawyer, fell ill after traveling to Nigeria and died of the disease.
Another physician, reportedly American and working for the World Health Organization, has been receiving treatment at Emory Hospital in Atlanta after testing positive in Sierra Leone.
Mukpo’s father said in a message to family and friends that his son “has been engaged with human rights work in West Africa for the last several years. When the Ebola outbreak occurred he felt compelled to return to Liberia to help shed light on how the crisis was being handled socially and politically.”
In the message, reported by NBC News, Levy added: “Having lived there for the last several years, Ashoka was well aware of the risks but felt strongly about trying to help provide honest perspective from the ground level.”
Levy told The Post on Friday that Mukpo worked for an NGO in Liberia until May. After returning to the United States for several months, he went back to Liberia two weeks ago to “see if he could make a difference” by reporting on the devastating effect of Ebola on the country, his father said.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Snyderman, the NBC medical editor, said that Mukpo was feeling tired and achy on Wednesday. “In the field, we work long hours so thought maybe he just wasn’t taking care of himself, and we sent him home to rest. He signed off, went home [and] called me later that evening with an elevated temperature.”
As for her own return after having been in contact with Mukpo, she said: “Because we know this is not a casually transmitted disease and because we don’t have any symptoms, we present zero to minimal risk. Our returning to the U.S. is a very, very minimal chance of getting anyone [else] sick.”
“We are doing everything we can to get him the best care possible,” NBC News president Deborah Turness said in a note to the staff reported by the network. She continued:
“We are also taking all possible measures to protect our employees and the general public. The rest of the crew, including Dr. Nancy, are being closely monitored and show no symptoms or warning signs. However, in an abundance of caution, we will fly them back on a private charter flight and then they will place themselves under quarantine in the United States for 21 days – which is at the most conservative end of the spectrum of medical guidance.”
Though he had an apartment in the capital city, Mukpo was a regular at the Cape Hotel in Monrovia’s Mamba Point section, where many western journalists and aid workers have been staying. He toured the city with his video camera, looking for footage that he could sell to news outlets, primarily in the west.
The Washington Post purchased one such tape, which shows a woman, Comfort Doe, dying outside of a Liberian hospital that had refused to take her in.
In another clip, Mukpo showed the covered corpse of a man who had staggered off a bus and died on the street.
Last month, Mukpo also worked as a “fixer” — a local guide and driver — for Vice’s news operation, taking a reporter and cameraman to sites around the city. He was one of three journalists to attend the news conference held by the aid group Doctors Without Borders Sept. 17 to announce that a French nurse had become infected with Ebola at the organization’s treatment center there.
On his Facebook page, the Providence, R.I., native wrote: “man oh man i have seen some bad things in the last two weeks of my life. how unpredictable and fraught with danger life can be. how in some parts of the world, basic levels of help and assistance that we take for granted completely don’t exist for many people. the raw coldness of deprivation and the potential for true darkness that exists in the human experience. i hope that humanity can figure out how we can take care of each other and our world. simple, soft aspiration for all my brothers and sisters on this earth who suffer the elements and the cold. may we all be free, loved, and tended to…”
In another Facebook post, Mukpo explored the shooting death of a 15-year-old boy by Liberian security forces during protests of the quarantine imposed on the West Point slum.
“The idea that this has been a crisis only of the country’s health care systems is wrong,” Mukpo wrote. “This has also been a crisis of governance. Liberians have refused to believe that Ebola is real because they see their government as relentlessly corrupt and unconcerned with the survival and health of the poor.”
[This post has been updated.]
RELATED READING: Reporting on Ebola: First rule is you don’t touch anyone