Second group of South Africans sent to West Africa

17 February

A second group of South African health workers are being deployed to countries affected by the latest Ebola outbreak by the government, in collaboration with the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (Aseowa), to help contain the disease.

The Right to Care organisation, which partnered with the national Department of Health to send the first batch of health workers almost a month ago, says 20 nurses and three paramedics are expected to leave for Sierra Leone on 20 February.

“The health workers have undergone pre-deployment training given by the African Union [AU] and Department of Health officials. On arrival in affected countries, [they] will undergo further intensive training for two weeks before embarking on their duties,” the organisation said.

The AU’s commissioner of social affairs, Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, commended the South African government for sending health workers, saying that the 835 African medical personnel so far deployed by Aseowa had had a positive impact on reducing both new infections and deaths from Ebola.

“We are very proud that, together with the governments of AU member states, we are finding solutions to African challenges by Africans,” said Kaloko. “By representing South Africa on the mission, you will also be representing the AU and Africa in general. I am very sure that you will. continue to make a positive impact.”

Emergency treatment

The organisation said the first group, which comprised nine professional nurses and a medical doctor, was stationed at the Goderich Emergency Ebola Treatment Centre on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

“Since their arrival, the South Africans have already seen six discharges and lost two patients. One 36-year-old man was a typical patient. He arrived with a confirmed Ebola diagnosis. He began treatment and then ‘crashed’ as often happens, but treatment was successful. He recovered and was released, walking out on his own. The youngest patient so far has been a four-year-old boy. He has been moved from the [intensive care unit] and is now recovering,” said Right to Care.

It said the health workers would stay in the country for six months of service at treatment sites supported by the AU. When they returned to South Africa they would be observed for three weeks before they could resume normal duties.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said while Ebola cases were decreasing, the South African effort implemented by Right to Care and supported by the South African government, the private sector and the AU was able to address Ebola fatigue.

“South Africa’s involvement, which began last year, has been extensive and has included mobilising both a domestic response to prevent the entry of Ebola into South Africa as well as an external health and humanitarian assistance programme to support affected countries.”

Cash and in-kind contributions

He said the Department of Health had mobilised cash and in-kind contributions amounting to almost R60-million. “This has included setting up a diagnostic laboratory which has tested more than 6 000 specimens of those suspected of Ebola infection. The laboratory teams rotate every five weeks and are also training local personnel.

“We have also provided 16 000 protection suits and we have sent ambulances, scooters, drugs, generators, autoclaves for sterilisation and food. South Africa can be very proud of our courageous health care workers and all those that have supported the Ebola response, as they assist fellow Africans to win the fight against Ebola,” Motsoaledi said.

Right to Care’s Professor Ian Sanne said South African health workers were on duty for long shifts each day, sometimes in full protective clothing and at other times working in the laboratory or fulfilling other duties.

“They are learning to treat a highly infectious disease effectively. The knowledge they gain will be useful in knowing how to better treat other crisis outbreaks.”

AU director of social affairs Dr Olawale Maiyegun said the most important and effective intervention with significant impact was the decreasing number of Ebola cases. Aseowa had made a huge difference.

“Before their intervention, Ebola was chasing us. Thanks to Aseowa, we are now chasing Ebola. It is just a matter of time, Ebola shall be defeated,” he said.

Benefits for health workers

The organisation said Aseowa would give the health workers an allowance, full training, insurance and housing, and would take care of them should they contract Ebola.

“One of the major groups in the financial sector in South Africa has committed to paying for transport, flights and transfers for this medical intervention,” said the organisation.