WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Reducing Ebola infections among doctors, nurses and morgue workers is a priority in the struggle to control the outbreak of the virus in West Africa, a U.S. official said on Monday.
“What we are trying to address immediately is to reduce the number of healthcare workers that are affected. That number is high and that number must come down,” said Tim Callaghan, head of the Disaster Assistance Response Team in West Africa.
Some hospitals and health clinics lacked even the basics like water, buckets and disinfectant, he said.
Callaghan, who spoke by telephone from Monrovia, arrived in Liberia last Thursday to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development’s response on the ground and coordinate with governments there and international agencies.
Liberian Foreign Affairs Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan said last week that the country’s health sector was being devastated by the Ebola crisis, as trained doctors and nurses got infected, quarantined, or were afraid to go to work.
USAID late last week said it was providing funds for 105,000 sets of protective gear for frontline healthcare workers and disease investigators working in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three countries at the centre of the outbreak of the disease, which has killed over 1,000 people to date.
The gear is part of $7.45 million in additional funding from USAID for operational support, bringing to $14.5 million the amount it has committed since the epidemic was confirmed in March. The World Health Organization estimates it needs $100 million.
Callaghan declined to estimate how long it might take to get the disease under control in the three countries, stressing that USAID’s role is to work closely with the governments to help meet their needs for equipment, training and logistical help, in coordination with other international agencies. It has 13 staff members in the region, and the Centers for Disease Control, which handles the medical response as opposed to operational logistics, plans on a team of 50.
“At this point we are non-stop looking at what the current needs are and addressing them, everything from burial, cremation, transportation of dead bodies. I think that is what everybody is focused on right now,” he said.
In Liberia, the government is focusing on restoring confidence among medical professionals who have fled hospitals which often lack basic supplies for fear of contagion, he said.
Training healthcare workers to use the equipment properly also is critical, as are public information campaigns to prevent the spread of the highly infectious disease.
“The issue of healthcare workers is a huge issue. The government recognises that, the government is putting in every effort to assure that their safety is important … “ Callaghan said.