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SA's health workers to help fight Ebola in Sierra Leone

The first group of healthcare professionals recruited to help treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone is due to leave on Friday, Right to Care announced on Monday.

Right to Care is a nonprofit organisation working closely with the Department of Health to support its aid to Sierra Leone.

It launched an appeal in December for doctors, nurses and paramedics to help the West African nation.

Sierra Leone has been hardest hit by the region's Ebola outbreak, which has also affected Liberia and Guinea.

The virus has infected about 21,000 people, 10,000 of them in Sierra Leone, and has killed at least 8,300 people, according to the World Health Organisation. At least 678 healthcare workers are known to have contracted the virus, of whom 382 have died.

Eleven nurses and one doctor have undergone intensive training in SA, and would face another week of training in Freetown before they begin working in treatment centres there, said Right to Care medical director Pappie Majuba.

A total of 25 healthcare professionals had volunteered so far, a response he said was "fairly good" considering the appeal was launched just before SA's summer holiday season began. Three healthcare professionals who volunteered have been forced to stay home as they do not have valid travel documents, he said.

Right to Care said South African healthcare professionals would not only support Sierra Leone's healthcare sector but also gain valuable experience in dealing with viral haemorrhagic fevers. Such skills would prove useful should Ebola or related diseases occur in SA.

The volunteers would spend only eight weeks in Sierra Leone, as the experience of aid organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières and Emergency showed that longer stints in such intense working environments increased the risks to healthcare workers, said Dr Majuba.

"People start making mistakes if they are there too long," he said.

He would join the next batch of South African volunteers in Sierra Leone, who are expected to leave within the next two to four weeks.

"The healthcare staff will be working … under difficult conditions. The ‘space suit' that is worn includes three layers of protection, including gloves, boots and headgear, and those wearing it work for no longer than 90 minute shifts as it is so hot," he said.

"Infection control is extraordinary within the hospitals so the risk of contracting Ebola there is low. The risk is when people venture outside the hospital," Dr Majuba said.

The volunteers will be closely monitored for three weeks after returning to SA, and will be prohibited from having contact with local patients during this time.

"We will ask them to remain at home and not to mix with people. Not even shaking hands will be allowed until the quarantine period is done."
 
The medical volunteers will be repatriated if they contract Ebola.

Source URL: http://www.bdlive.co.za/national/health/2015/01/20/sas-health-workers-to-help-fight-ebola-in-sierra-leone

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