Is the British Government Deserting Volunteers in the Battle Against Ebola?

Buckle up (Simon Davis/DFID)

If this “The Telegraph” news article is to be believed, then the 1500 or so British volunteers that the NHS is despatching to Sierra Leone as a part of a massive 125 million pounds assistance program may get into some soup if they end up contracting Ebola during their stay in the country. The arrangement is that the volunteers who contract the disease will be treated at a British Army facility at Freetown and will not be repatriated. This raises a lot of worries because the Freetown center does not have ventilatory support or dialysis facilities, both of which might be critical systems needed to support patients, especially if they are spiralling down into multi-organ failure.

Naturally, the medics seem to have raised a lot of concerns over this ruling. The logic behind such a cruel and ironic stand is probably one fuelled by mass panic, and not good policy. Instead of backing these volunteers to the hilt, the policy makers are more worried about quelling a mass panic at the thought of “flying in Ebola” into the country (in the form of a sick healthcare provider who took a massive personal and professional risk and showed immense courage in going to the disease ravaged nation in the first place). It might also mean that other British individuals who are “trapped” in the nation, suffering from this disease, would want to be repatriated to their homeland. That would mean bringing a lot of sick people back to the nation, against public opinion, and at the risk of triggering a mass panic attack. To me, this sounds wonderfully ingratiate and typically the lyrics to which policy-making, ivory-tower-dwelling giants live in. As you may have noted, I am pissed.

Training NHS Medics in PPE Use (Simon Davis/DFID)
Training NHS Medics in PPE Use (Simon Davis/DFID)

An unnamed source (always a dicey affair in news articles) seems to have hit the nail on the head when he states:

“The plans are rather vague, and I think volunteers are owed some clarity,” said the medic. “If they have tested positive for Ebola, they and their families have enough to worry about, without the additional factor of whether they are coming back to Britain or not.”

Though this seems rather insensitive and ungrateful, I have to acknowledge that there is some logic behind the assertions of the Department of Health when they say that in the initial phase of the disease, good supportive care, nutrition and hydration are adequate to help the patient tide over the episode. However, considering the fact that these doctors, nurses, paramedical staffs and other technicians are going at great personal risk to help out a nation in distress, the government ought to support them should something go wrong.

Buckle up (Simon Davis/DFID)
Buckle up (Simon Davis/DFID)


The irrational fear of causing an iatrogenic outbreak is palpable and of course, public opinion, no matter how skewed, is always a matter of concern for politicians. However, if in all of this pandering and ineffective communications, the healthcare workers feel abandoned and betrayed, it would be quite unfair. Would it not be better if the Government stood shoulder to shoulder with these brave souls and instituted safety protocols for their safe repatriation in case anything went wrong, without jeopardising the national safety? Why could that not be a way out?

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